Just about every community has a landfill these days in which to pitch things that are no longer used. The existence of a “dump” as it is colorfully called, has been an well-used part of metropolitan support networks for years.
So have the waste transport companies that fulfill the unsavory job of picking up and transporting our trash to the dump. Companies like Waste Management, which provides services in 48 states, as well as Puerto Rico and Canada, have made a successful industry out of facilitating that service. With yearly revenues of $13.6 billion and a net income of $817 million, WM is #200 on Fortune’s 500 this year (up from 203 in 2012).
This advance may be due, in part, to WM’s careful management of assets and services, but it is also proof of the fact that most communities still use the landfill to get rid of unused and discarded items.
Replacing landfills with zero waste programs
And WM has been thinking about that recently. In May, it announced that it was offering its customers services that would help them attain Zero Waste validation through Underwriter Laboratories’ Environment (UL Environment) program. According to WM, the program helps customers attain a “streamlined route to pursuing validation” by providing “intermediate benchmarks” toward the ultimate goal of zero use of landfill services.
Many communities have already started moving away from the use of communal landfills by establishing a multi-faceted system for recycling and reusing materials. These programs, such as the one we reported on in March that is gearing up in Vancouver, BC Canada, strive toward a waste diversion rate of 100 percent. Attaining that, notes WM, often takes years, but can be accomplished in gradual stages. WM’s program works with communities to convert their refuse program away from the landfill concept to a recycle, reuse and compost system that WM continues to manage.
Zero waste validation benchmarks
According to UL Environment, its validation services are broken into three levels, depending upon the success the community or company has made in attaining complete waste diversion. Applicants must undergo a two-part audit process by UL Environment before being awarded any of the three validation levels. Communities can meet those three benchmarks in stages, at their own pace.
WM partnering with UL Environment is only one of several steps it has taken recently to increase its visible support of its customers’ sustainability goals. In June it announced that it would be partnering with designer Bill McDonough in a new initiative that would be geared toward making products and packaging more recycle-friendly.
Product and packaging redesign means less landfill
“This is a unique new avenue for innovation,” McDonough said in a joint press release. “What we have previously thought of as ‘waste streams’ can be transformed into positive, safe, healthy resource reuse systems that bring value to their communities in many forms.”
McDonough referred to the initiative as “designing up from the dumpster,” by integrating change into packaging and product design so they can be recycled, reused or composted after their use.
“Working together, we will use the tools of design, science and principled business practices in collaboration with manufacturers, retailers, distributors, consumers and recyclers of products and packaging to profitably work toward eliminating the very concept of waste.”
The WM-McDonough design initiative, and WM’s partnership with zero-waste validation programs that increase the visibility of green companies, communities and organizations are two smart ideas that hopefully will make it easier for communities to dump the landfill concept.
Waste Management image courtesy of keepingtime_ca.
Landfill image courtesy of Ashley Felton.