Becoming a Zero Waste Company: Is it Possible?

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Becoming a Zero Waste Company: Is it Possible?

Reducing carbon emissions and making positive changes towards being environmentally friendly are key concerns for many companies these days, and it is not uncommon to see organisations aiming to reach net zero. This goal isn’t easy to achieve, and in many cases, it’s supported by utilising carbon offsetting; a process where a company buys a carbon credit and funds an action that removes the same amount of carbon from the air in order to balance out the overall amount of CO2 that enters into the atmosphere.

Carbon offsetting is a somewhat controversial topic, with supporters championing the practice for being able to make an immediate and effective change whilst new processes or procedures are rolled out. However, some people considering it to be ‘greenwashing’ or tantamount to false advertising – especially when it’s paired with active advertising of being a carbon neutral company and believe that the practice doesn’t promote genuine change (why make expensive changes to your company when you can just pay someone else to be environmentally friendly for you).

As new measures are taken across the world to reduce carbon emissions, and organisations such as the EU begin to look at certifying the removal of CO2 with government approved certification, there is considerable forward momentum for companies to make sustainable changes to their business practices in order to be truly green.

One measure that is gaining popularity is to run zero waste businesses and stores. The global zero waste packaging market for example, was valued at £1.9 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach £4.1 billion by 2030, with a CAGR of 8.92%.

But is it truly possible to run a zero-waste business without relying on carbon offsets?

The goal will not be one that is easy to reach, and it shouldn’t be expected in the short-term – especially for industries whose manufacturing processes or distribution channels are inefficient when it comes to green issues. Carbon offsetting should not be treated as a replacement for taking sustainable actions, but they can help reduce the global impact whilst effective and long-lasting change is developed, tested, and implemented.

At present, it would be extremely difficult for many businesses to reach zero-waste without making use of offsets – evaluation of product creation, supply chains, distribution routes, packaging, storage, and other operational elements would need to be tested, and alternatives sourced in order to make zero-waste without offsets a reality.

Smaller businesses, and companies who create their products or services in-house, or have a smaller localised audience are far more likely to reach the goal first, as they have the ability to make sustainable changes and still reach their customers, without the issues caused by wider distribution or packaging.

What are the Principles of Zero Waste?

When it comes to managing a zero-waste business, there are 5 over-arching principles that guide action, these are:

  1. Refuse
  2. Reduce
  3. Reuse
  4. Recycle
  5. Rot

These basic rules help to categorize and simplify how your company views its waste, and what it does to deal with it.

You look at your refuse and sort it into what can be directly recycled, and what can’t. Then where possible, reuse or recycle as much materials as possible, and where there are organic materials which can be composted – they should be put to rot.

Any waste left over from these processes is then evaluated:

  • Where did it come from?
  • What was it used for?
  • Can it be replaced with a sustainable alternative?

Companies who are making the switch to zero-waste operations have been considering their purchases, operations, packaging, and marketing; it is a full company effort which requires the involvement of everyone from the top down.

The process is growing in the US, especially with businesses reducing their use of single use plastics, and since 2015 hundreds of American stores promoting themselves as being zero-waste have opened.

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What Does the Future Hold for Zero Waste Companies?

The industry continues to flourish and grow as more people favour brands that are taking ethical and sustainable actions, and zero-waste is certainly on-trend.

It may be some time before industries and larger companies can truly promote themselves as being zero-waste and actually being carbon zero, and in the meantime, offsets are an important tool in limiting the amount of damage to the environment – but there will come a time when buying your green credentials is not enough, and genuine, sustainable, and lasting changes need to be made.

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