Practicing zero waste strategies through our supply chain has profound effects on our economy and environment. Many of the largest corporations in America have dedicated resources to tackle their business waste; are small businesses aware of the opportunities to practice zero waste?
Recycling matters, and while strides have been made with composting and recycling in the U.S. and worldwide, both have major challenges. Our current system of sustainable waste management needs an overhaul and landfills can carry only so much trash before affecting our environment. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the total generation of municipal solid waste in 2018 was 292.4 million tons (U.S. short tons), or 4.9 pounds per person per day.
Electronic waste and single-use plastics are major contributors to filling up those landfills. While individuals do contribute, it is the companies that play the biggest role in the accumulation of waste. The cost of waste disposal is rising every year along with a sense of urgency from consumers.
What is zero waste?
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Zero Waste International Alliance, zero waste is the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse and recovery of products, packaging and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water or air that threaten the environment or human health.
Building an economy that is regenerative and restorative by design has the potential to unlock economic and ecological opportunities Here are six ways to accomplish that:
- Protecting natural resources: Zero waste strategies help protect our natural resources. Think about this: We are more than 7 billion people living on one planet. Our resources like fresh water, fossil fuels, metals and other sources are limited. Zero waste helps us live within our planet’s means by using resources more efficiently, so we will have the raw materials to sustain future generations of humans and other species.
- Climate resilience: Did you know the way we produce, consume and dispose of our products and our food accounts for 42% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions? Setting zero waste goals is one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways small businesses can reduce our climate impact.
- Green jobs, stronger local economy: Another important fact to know is that zero waste activities create 10 times more jobs per ton than landfills and incinerators. These are quality jobs for low-skilled and mid-level workers. We can help strengthen our local economy by keeping money and materials circulating locally, instead of burying them in a landfill.
- Healthy people, healthy planet: Here is a hard realization: Every single one of us — even the fishes in the sea — carries toxic chemicals in our bodies. These toxins are emitted from dirty manufacturing plants and polluting landfills and incinerators. Zero waste strategies call on small businesses to look at how our products are packaged and overall manufacturing processes to be as non-toxic as possible so that all living organisms on the planet can be healthier.
- Healthy soils, healthy food: Among all these benefits, composting food scraps and debris from your yard helps replenish our soil with much-needed nutrients. Healthy soils grow healthier food, they require fewer pesticides, help conserve water and slow climate change by storing carbon.
- Social justice: Social stability is directly impacted by the health of our ecosystems. As we run out of resources to support our needs — like oil, minerals and even fresh water — civil unrest will follow. By implementing zero waste strategies, we can use fewer resources, so that our current and future generations can live peacefully.
Being a zero-waste business has many benefits that go beyond our small business — it helps the overall health of our natural environment. Zero waste strategies help keep the balance of our natural resources so future generations can thrive. When it comes to the devastating effects of climate change, people may want to throw up their hands and turn their heads. Luckily, there are many organizations providing resources to help small businesses.
Small businesses can find free education and resources that make a difference. In order to reach the city’s zero waste goal by 2050, the City of Phoenix’s Zero Waste team provides education and community outreach to teach the community about waste diversion. The Zero Waste team is a great source of recycling education and information for residents and businesses.
In addition, take a moment to explore the Going Green and Going Smart Program to learn how you can transform your small business by joining the #GreenBizAZ movement. This initiative aims to educate small-business owners in sustainable business practices for a cleaner, greener future in Arizona.
EDGAR RAFAEL OLIVO is a bilingual business educator, economic advisor, and contributor for several media outlets. He’s a nonprofit executive who is passionate about education. He is certified in finance and data analytics and holds a business degree from Arizona State University.
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