Zero waste businesses can save money and the environment

zero waste, boss magazineAs we look at company culture in every industry, there is one common theme that many brands are focusing on: becoming more sustainable. This is an especially important goal for businesses that commonly create excess organic waste, such as restaurants and grocery stores. It’s something we’re all trying to improve upon, and it’s a fantastic goal to tackle.

The idea of “zero waste” takes sustainability a step further. It is a philosophy that encourages the redesign of our habits and cycles so that all products are reused. The goal is for no trash to be sent to landfills, incinerators, or the ocean, similar to the way resources are reused in nature. While it is extremely difficult to be truly zero waste, we can certainly aim to get as close as possible to that bottom line, and in doing so the results will be beneficial in both sustainability and in profit. There are several key steps to create maximum efficiency in a brand’s waste reduction.

Create a Benchmark

The first part of this process is to understand what materials or waste you’re currently generating. Are you a restaurant or grocery store that consistently throws out solid food? Are you a retailer that has an excess of plastic bags? Are you wasting styrofoam or cardboard? Next, it’s important to go through and see how that adds up over time. How much of each type of waste are you producing? Quantify that for the week, month, and the year if you can, then investigate the source of your excess.

Review Your Operations

Your next task is to answer the “why?” Look for the root cause of the waste generation. Likely, your waste is coming from your procurement of goods or your operational processes. If it is the former, see if you’re able to reduce what your ordering. This has a double net effect: If you are able to reduce, you will cut down on cost to buy, as well as cost to dispose of it.

If you’re unable to purchase less, see if there are ways your ops team can create by-products from what you originally purchased. These can be sold for an additional profit, again helping to make money and increase the bottom line through reduction of waste.

Reframe Your Thinking

There is a reason why the phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” has stuck around for so long — it’s true! So many people throw out their excess boxes, metal, and bags, but there are tons of people and services that will pay to take those items off your hands. This is a great way to create extra income and ensure that your extra materials go somewhere that will have an additional use for them.

For food that you are unable to reuse in-house, research food donation options in your area. Whether you choose a local food pantry or a special charity, you can give to those in need and you’ll be able to receive some tax benefits as a result (especially if this is something you do regularly). Win-win.

Explore Your Program

zero waste, boss magazineThe biggest takeaway is that if you want to become more sustainable (or zero waste), you will need to do your research and make sure you’ve exhausted all possible resources and options before disposing of waste in a landfill. Recycling and composting make up for a huge percentage of waste diversion that many business owners don’t realize — and those options can even be cheaper than using a garbage pickup service in some scenarios.

With that said, it is important to make sure you understand the services you’re using. Know things like bin sizes, pickup days, and other nuances so you’re getting the most bang for your buck and are assured that the maximum amount of waste is being taken off your hands.

The Triple Bottom Line

Ultimately, going zero waste is a three-fold bottom line and all factors need to be considered. Simply put, it boils down to these three things:           

    1. People – Divert waste materials to charitable organizations in need (e.g. food to the food insecure).
    2. Planet – Divert from landfills into reusable commodity streams.
    3. Profits – Reduce over-purchasing, increasing efficiency, capturing value in the waste stream, etc.

If you as a business owner can order leaner, then find meaningful ways to use your excess products or by-products, you will ultimately be able to turn a bigger profit and be proud of what you’re doing for the environment and community around you. These steps are all relatively simple in theory, but it takes a commitment and discipline to carry out the process. In order to see the change, your company has to be willing to stick it out.

About Matthew S. Hollis:

Matthew S. Hollis is the President of Elytus, an innovative waste management company committed to helping their clients #wastenothing. To learn more about Elytus, visit the company on the web at or on social media @Elytus.