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Changing the Way Organizations Manage Waste: A Shift to Waste Minimization and Sustainable Materials Management

Managing waste costs businesses across the country billions of dollars annually. These incurred costs are not just from the collection and disposal of waste, but also through the loss of resources and materials that could otherwise be returned to the production cycle or reused in some manner - or maybe never produced in the first place.

Today, businesses, communities, and organizations across the country are seeking to optimize their environmental and fiscal performance on multiple levels. Rethinking their waste by pursuing sustainable management methods and minimizing the waste that is disposed are – or should be – key considerations in this process.

What is waste minimization and why do organizations pursue it?

Waste minimization can be accomplished through a number of methods, including:

  • Source Reduction and Reuse – Waste Prevention is the most preferred method to achieve waste minimization. It means reducing waste at the source to save natural resources, conserve energy, reduce pollution, reduce the toxicity of our waste, and save money for businesses and consumers. If you can’t prevent waste entirely, can it be reused such that durable goods can be reused for the same or an alternate purpose?
  • Recycling – Materials that have an economic value if processed and used again in a new manufacturing process can often be recycled. Recycling requires organizations to segregate these materials from the waste stream and collect them separately. Recycling can be less costly than disposal because there is value in the collected materials; cleaner, more segregated, and properly packaged streams typically draw a higher value than mixed materials (e.g., baled cardboard is more valuable than a mixed paper stream collected in loose form).
  • Composting – Materials with an organic content (i.e., food wastes, yard wastes, food-soiled paper, and disposable paper products not suitable for recycling) can be collected for composting. Composting – or advanced forms of biological degradation such as anaerobic digestion – provides for the monitored and controlled decomposition of organic materials, preserving the nutrients embedded in the material and producing a finished compost product that can be applied to fields, blended with soils, and sold to consumers to enrich planting areas.

Environmental benefits of waste minimization include:

  • Preserving raw materials for productive use in manufacturing of new products
  • Reducing the demand for virgin resources, preserving our valuable natural resources
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with mining and harvesting virgin materials
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with landfill disposal or waste incineration
  • Reducing toxicity of the waste stream

Cost benefits of waste minimization include:

  • Increased operations efficiencies due to reduced material or product loss
  • Reduced disposal costs
  • Increased customer confidence, resulting in positive organizational image

Other drivers for waste minimization include meeting corporate sustainability and zero waste goals, and complying with regulatory requirements. Additionally, a number of states have mandated increasing levels of waste diversion and the formation of waste diversion programs. These policies impact individual generators as well as local jurisdictions who often are monitoring and reporting on waste and diversion activity.

More recently, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation targeting printed paper and packaging (PPP) has been introduced in at least 11 states during 2021 (recent bills are summarized here – This is a significant uptick from activity over the past decade, as shown in the figure below. EPR legislation places requirements on producers of products to take back and/or fund the recovery and recycling of their products. Paper and packaging EPR, where it is enacted, will impact a number of sectors, including retail, logistics, and manufacturing. APTIM is tracking this activity to advise and support our clients to comply with EPR requirements.

Figure 1. Source: RILA Retail Compliance Center, Fact Sheet: Mandatory Recycling and Disposal Bans, 1. Source: RILA Retail Compliance Center, Fact Sheet: Mandatory Recycling and Disposal Bans,

Three Steps to Implementing Waste Minimization Strategies in Your Organization

Regardless of your organization’s “why” for pursuing waste minimization, you can expect to take the following three steps as you start your journey:

1.       Build a Baseline Understanding of Current Operations and Costs

  • Complete a comprehensive audit of current waste activities and waste stream characteristics. Identify the sources of waste and the types and quantities of waste produced by each source. APTIM provides audit design and implementation services to our clients, having completed more than 6,000 audits looking at more than 24,000 samples from client sites.
  • Review operational processes to identify key waste generation areas and waste streams. APTIM can assist clients to complete this review and evaluate alternative management methods to reduce waste.
  • Review waste collection and disposal costs and contract provisions. Costs are a function of the frequency of collection and size and type of containers on-site. APTIM provides procurement and contract management support to our clients, having advised on more than $1.7 billion in contract value.

2.       Develop a Strategy to Minimize Waste

  • Identify process changes to reduce waste and/or segregate reusable, recyclable, or compostable materials from wastes throughout facility operations. APTIM routinely assists our clients to develop comprehensive strategies to reduce waste disposal, including communities and private clients alike. We have completed waste minimization strategies for clients across the U.S.
  • Evaluate alternatives for material management. Diverting materials from disposal requires access to collection and post-collection infrastructure to be effective and close the loop. APTIM completes comprehensive market assessments for our clients to identify regulatory requirements, collection options, and diversion infrastructure.
  • Right-size services to provide adequate diversion capacity and reduce disposal capacity. This will reduce costs, ensure appropriate space is available for each material stream based on audit data, and support increased diversion. APTIM’s auditing and contracting experience, and our SWANA Zero Waste and TRUE Advisor certified staff can readily identify appropriate service levels for our clients.

3.       Implement the Strategy

  • Train employees on new practices. A training program providing staff an understanding of new practices and policies, as well as the reasons for implementing them, is key to successful strategy roll-out. APTIM’s training capabilities are robust; we have developed and executed training programs at the organization, local jurisdiction, state, and national level, including for leading industry organizations such as SWANA and RILA.
  • Monitor and report on performance. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and simply setting forth policies on waste minimization will not guarantee success. APTIM supports our clients on their waste minimization journey by providing auditing, waste characterization, and data analysis services, including providing recommendations to strengthen and enhance waste minimization efforts.

APTIM. In Pursuit of Better.