For companies, achieving net zero emissions means removing the same amount of pollution from the atmosphere as it produces. For example, if a company emits 10 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, it has to remove 10 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the air to achieve net zero. Minimizing waste production in the first place is a crucial part of reaching net-zero emissions.
The Importance of Reducing Waste
Almost all industrial processes produce waste in one form or another. As long as a business removes as much waste as it generates, that’s enough — right?
No — at least, not if the business wants to remain profitable.
Although removing an equal amount of waste does satisfy the goal of reaching net zero, the more pollution a corporation generates, the more time and money it has to spend performing cleanup. That can hurt a company’s bottom line.
It’s more cost effective to introduce cleaner manufacturing and shipping processes. This process is not always simple. If it was, companies would have adopted it in the first place. However, it is vital to meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep the global temperature increase under 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2030.
Another reason to implement better waste management practices? Consumers are becoming more eco-savvy.
Buyers have begun exerting stronger pressure on businesses to be accountable for their carbon footprint, and corporations that fail to take responsibility are viewed in a negative light. Gone are the days of turning a blind eye to dumping trash in rivers or setting it ablaze. If consumers cannot recycle a product or its packaging, they are less likely to buy it to begin with.
As of 2021, electronics companies export up to 80% of their e-waste to developing nations. These businesses often claim they are recycling their waste, but much of it ends up in landfills in China and India.
It is not enough for a business to merely say it has reached net zero. That practice is known as greenwashing, and it can hurt a corporation’s image even more than being ignorant of proper waste management practices. Customers want proof that a company is really taking action to clean up its own pollution.
Corporations must stop contributing to climate change for two reasons — maintaining compliance and preventing catastrophes.
While laws vary by country and even municipality, most developed regions have restrictions on waste generation to mitigate climate change and pollution. Such regulations govern how much pollution companies can produce, which types of waste are acceptable, and how and where they can dispose of it. Failing to comply can result in fines or even shutdowns.
These laws also govern proper cleanup practices when waste finds its way into the public sphere. They determine a safe level for heavy metals, fertilizer, salt and other pollutants in municipal areas.
Even in the absence of waste management laws, businesses have a strong incentive to go green in the form of climate change. Demand for cold-weather products may decrease as the planet heats up. The increased prevalence of storms could make shipping more dangerous. Agricultural and food-related companies might face tremendous losses as droughts and floods affect farmland.
Whatever the industry, climate change will affect all businesses to some degree. Companies must start addressing it now to avoid the worst consequences.
Waste Management Practices to Implement
Waste management starts at the source. Global material consumption rose by over 65% from 2000 to 2019, contributing significantly to pollution. To achieve net-zero emissions, companies should focus on pollution prevention, also known as P2. There are numerous P2 practices companies can incorporate into their waste management strategies.
To start, businesses should use less packaging. This strategy is better for the environment and it cuts down on packaging costs. Companies can wrap their products in materials such as cardboard, cornstarch and recycled paper. They should ship and display products in compostable or recyclable containers.
Reducing water and energy consumption is another crucial component of waste management. Companies can install smart HVAC systems, smart lights and low-flow water fixtures to minimize their energy use. They can use solar or wind energy to power their operations. Environmental officers and engineers should also develop more efficient industrial processes that generate less waste.
Waste Management Is Non-Negotiable
Although it’s possible to achieve net zero without reducing waste output, this goal is difficult and not likely to be profitable. As businesses adapt to a changing climate and new regulations, maintaining compliance while still making money can be a challenge. The best solution is to reduce waste at the source to avoid unnecessary cleanup in the future.
Jane Marsh works as the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she covers environmental news and sustainable living tips.