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Embracing Zero Waste: The Economic Benefits for Achieving Net-Zero

This is the 2nd part of the Zero Waste Series and is focused on the economic benefits of a zero-waste program.

For many companies, the current inflationary environment is making it more difficult to gain funding (positive ROI) for capital-intensive projects related to carbon emissions reductions. Net-zero commitments seem to be slipping with each passing quarter of company earnings announcements. However, there are still other pathways to maintain focus on the long-term vision of net-zero emissions while adjusting to the current economic realities.

One of the most misunderstood concepts is that zero waste is a narrow focus on physical material streams bound for landfills and needing to be diverted for recycling. Zero Waste is so much more. Zero waste exists in a culture committed to balancing the environment and the materials used in pursuit of a product or service. It’s hard to conceive of a company achieving a net-zero future without first changing the culture to align with the principles of zero waste.

How Zero Waste Helps to Drive Down Costs and Improve Revenues

1. Landfill and Tipping Fees

Annual increases in landfill and tipping fees are expected to average 10%+ per year. Companies can realize significant cost savings by reducing these fees through zero-waste practices.

a. Cost Savings Example

Consider the savings from a 90% reduction in hauling and landfilling costs. How much potential recycling material is discarded versus recovered for recycling? Are the recycling materials managed properly for optimal value capture? For instance, corrugated cardboard protected from moisture and baled plastic films managed for consistent color and minimal contamination can significantly increase their value. This can be the difference between a $500 cost to discard a bale (e.g., 1400 pounds of LLDPE film) and a $250 revenue for the same material. Small quality management improvements can make a significant difference in the value of recovered materials.

2. Reusable Materials in Supply Chains

Are there reusable materials flowing through your supply chain? For example, pallet corner guards (estimated price $0.50-$2.00 per load) can be recovered. The costs add up when considering that thousands of pallets of goods require corner guards. One company we worked with generated over 1,000,000 corner guards per year, resulting in savings of $200,000 through recovery.

Another example is gaylord containers. Depending on the quality and design (e.g., five-wall watermelon boxes), the cost per gaylord can approach $25.00 for a high-volume consumer. Tens of thousands of gaylord boxes flow through distribution centers for materials ranging from watermelons to pumpkins. Many are discarded via roll-off dumpsters because they are more difficult to manually bale versus traditional corrugated boxes.

3. Incremental Revenue Increases and Process Efficiencies

These examples illustrate how a zero-waste program can incrementally increase revenues and process efficiencies. For a more disruptive approach to cost avoidance and automation, imagine a supply chain that uses 100% pool (recycled plastic or wood) pallets, 100% reusable pallet wraps, 100% reusable containers (including gaylords), and a robust digital platform for managing and securing these assets. This is the long-term vision for many companies, but it’s possible today. The technology and materials are in circulation at various stages of deployment. Tracking technology makes it possible to secure and streamline the deployment and recovery of all assets. What’s less known is that the ROI and ROE (return on environment) are equally compelling.

4. Winning the Hearts and Minds of Every Employee Stakeholder

Finally, when we think about how zero waste is a financially attractive option for starting or accelerating your sustainability journey, it’s essential to win the hearts and minds of every employee stakeholder. For most employers, safety is a condition of employment. The common reframe is that safety is everyone’s responsibility, and safety performance is expected to be zero accidents or incidents. Research has shown time and again that safety pays for itself in both more productive workforces (lost time reductions) and employee satisfaction.

Why not extend the same roadmap for safe workplaces to sustainable workplaces? All the tools (training), process methodologies (audits, quality controls, LEAN Six Sigma), and best practices are in place. What’s missing is a coordinated commitment to making zero-waste sustainable workplaces a condition of employment—from the executive suite to the individual contributor. This is the easiest way to jumpstart your sustainability journey.

Reaping the ROI and ROE from a Zero Waste Culture

Embracing zero waste not only aligns with environmental goals but also offers significant economic benefits. By reducing landfill and tipping fees, optimizing the recovery of recyclable materials, and integrating reusable materials into supply chains, companies can realize substantial cost savings and incremental revenue increases. Moreover, fostering a zero-waste culture within the organization can enhance employee engagement and productivity, further driving the company’s sustainability and financial performance.

As we continue to navigate the challenges of achieving net-zero emissions, integrating zero-waste principles offers a viable and economically beneficial pathway. The journey to a sustainable future begins with rethinking our approach to waste and making zero waste an integral part of our corporate culture and operations.

Stay tuned for the third part of this ten-part series, which will focus on mapping the transition from a linear to a circular supply chain, highlighting the steps and strategies to make this crucial shift.

About EcoTrax 

EcoTrax is a technology-enabled supply chain solutions company focusing on a mission-critical yet under-resourced area of supply chains – the recyclables, reusables, and waste produced by distribution centers. Our purpose-built platform and team of industry experts deliver solutions that increase the value and sustainability performance of recyclables (pallets, OCC bales, plastics, food waste) while simplifying and modernizing the management of returnable containers (totes, pooled pallets, etc.). We digitally integrate and synchronize all internal stakeholders and external partners and automate workflow through a single platform. This single point of truth reveals real-time, actionable data and insights, reducing environmental impact while improving fiscal performance.