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Did you know that zero waste also means carbon reduction?


May 15, 2018

Events like the 2018 Chicago Forum on Global Cities and the Bloomberg Sustainability Summit in Seattle gathered great leaders in sustainability, business, government and beyond to ruminate on some of the most pressing global issues and how they relate to stakeholders across the board and around the world.

It can be overwhelming to address critical environmental issues from a tactical perspective. With so much that needs to be done, where do we even begin? There is good news: by taking action in a keystone area of sustainability, there is often a chain reaction of positive impacts in other areas of sustainability.

Zero waste is one of these keystone activities. In many ways, the aspirational end-game of the original “reduce, reuse, recycle” movement, zero waste was for many years, a pie-in-the-sky goal. The term “zero waste” has been defined multiple ways much to the frustration of environmentalists and organizations trying to reduce waste. No matter how it’s defined though, there are opportunities to have an impact by reducing waste.

As more and more organizations pursue zero waste, stakeholders have recognized that reduced waste also results in a carbon emissions reduction. How? In the balance when materials are reused or recycled there is a reduction in energy use and the associated GHG emissions.  Even when a product is recycled, there is energy used to transport resources and to convert them into other goods, the avoided extraction of natural resources, transport and conversion into goods require far more energy than recycling materials. In addition, by reducing the amount of material sent to the landfill, there is a reduction in the amount of methane gas produced, a byproduct of anaerobic decomposition of organic materials in landfills. Greenhouse gas emissions are also reduced when materials are reused rather than incinerated. The general principle of reusing and/or diverting material from the landfill not only reduces waste in the landfill and the amount of natural resources extracted, but also minimizes carbon emissions, resulting in a plethora of benefits to the environment.

The amount of carbon reduction from waste diversion activities can be difficult to quantify. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed the Waste Reduction Model (WARM) to help track and measure the reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for municipalities based on different waste management alternatives. The same tools and principles can be used to calculate GHG savings for any facility.

For companies who want to validate their waste diversion achievements, UL developed the  Zero Waste to Landfill certification program based on UL 2799. The UL program can support waste reduction efforts by providing clear definitions of what constitutes waste and an objective and transparent process for validating zero waste environmental claims.

To learn more about how companies are using zero waste to pursue lower carbon emissions, watch the panel, “The Quest for Carbon Neutrality,” with UL’s Corporate Fellow Research Scientist, Bill Hoffman, and other industry leaders. Click here for video.