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Walmart Sponsored Series

Setting The Standard

Zero-Waste-to-Landfill Gets Certified

By Andrew Burger

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For reasons economic, social and environmental, a drive to boost efficiency and drastically cut down on waste of all types – materials, water and energy – is afoot across the U.S. Accurate, comprehensive and timely measurement and assessment of waste streams are prerequisites in order for any such plans to be realized successfully. Organizations such as UL Environment are stepping into the breach, establishing the tools, methods and standards necessary to measure, assess and drastically reduce waste streams across an expanding range of products and processes, as well as throughout organizations.

When it comes to reducing and managing solid waste streams, the UL ECVP 2799 “Zero-Waste-to-Landfill” validation refines the somewhat nebulous and variously defined concept of “zero waste.” With UL 2799, UL Environment sets out a comprehensive, rigorously-defined and independently-verified set of metrics and processes that a variety of leading companies are using to dramatically cut down the volume of solid waste being sent to landfills. In some cases, landfill waste has effectively been reduced to zero.

Zero-Waste-to-Landfill: A working definition

UL Environment's zero-waste-to-landfill initiative began taking shape in 2012, when it started working with roofing and building materials manufacturer GAF.

Working with GAF, as well as other businesses and municipalities aiming to reduce waste and enhance the overall sustainability of their operations, such as Bridgestone Americas, Mayer Brothers Apple Products and Waste Management's Phoenix Open PGA Tournament, UL 2799 has evolved into a comprehensive, clearly and rigorously defined environmental claims-verification standard and certification.

UL 2799 is comprised of three performance tiers:

  • Zero Waste to Landfill: Products, facilities and/or organizations that have achieved a landfill waste diversion rate of 100 percent;

  • Virtually Zero Waste to Landfill: Those that have achieved a landfill diversion rate of 98 percent or greater; and

  • Landfill Waste Diversion: For those that have achieved landfill waste diversion rates of 80 percent or greater.

As UL Environment explains, “Each claim validation is clearly defined, carefully reviewed and thoroughly vetted so that businesses and their customers can understand the environmental significance of such a major achievement.”

Waste-to-landfill: Getting to zero

Whether it's a large multinational manufacturer or a smaller local businesses or municipality, any organization looking to earn the UL Environment 2799 claims validation should take several preparatory steps, Donald Mayer, global business development manager for UL Environment, told 3p in a recent interview. These include an organized, ideally centralized set of data management tools capable of measuring and tracking the material inputs and outputs of solid waste streams, controls that reach across the supply chain, and at least six months of associated data.

Though the process is “very scalable,” the amount of resources, time and effort a manufacturer needs to invest in order to earn a UL 2799 certification varies and depends on a variety of factors, Mayer continued. These include but aren't limited to: the exact nature and composition of manufacturing inputs; the types of products being manufactured; the size and number of facilities involved; the number and size of solid waste streams; and any associated claims verification for associated products. Similarly, costs depend on specific, individual circumstances and vary greatly due to the number of variables involved.

The business sustainability concept of “zero waste” had been defined and measured in different ways by different companies looking for ways to reduce their solid waste streams and convey the significance of these initiatives inside and outside the organization, Mayer explained.

There's a broad diversity of organizations looking to institute, and garner recognition for, their waste reduction efforts, Mayer noted. That presents opportunities for UL Environment's global audit teams, as well as business managers, employees, supply chain partners and distributors.

As Mayer explained, “We act as an auditor. It's important that we have key partners to help get them where they want to go.” UL Environment, for example, has worked closely with Waste Management to verify and certify waste diversion claims spanning a variety of manufacturers.

Surveying the zero-waste metrics, methods and standards being developed and put to use among businesses and municipalities, UL Environment found a variety in use, “some more narrow than we were looking for.” Its work with GAF, along with industry leaders and government experts, eventually led to development of the UL 2799 waste-diversion standard and environmental claims standard and certification, Mayer recounted.

Internal cheerleaders

Some see “zero-waste-to-landfill” as a compromise, arguing that organizations, and society, should be aiming for “zero waste," the complete elimination of waste in their operations. Mayer and UL Environment, in contrast, view “zero-waste-to-landfill” as a practical, and important, evolutionary step along that path.

UL Environment's 2799 landfill waste-diversion standard, for instance, permits organizations to employ waste incineration with energy capture, or anaerobic biodigesters, for as much as 10 percent of solid waste streams – as long as waste-to-energy capture technology is part of the process.

“The challenge we've seen in the marketplace is the assumption that achieving zero waste is very easy, but the reality is that it's not. Within the standard, we set a minimum level of waste diversion of 80 percent. It takes a significant investment and effort to get there.”

UL Environment permits waste-to-energy capture to “bridge the last mile of waste-diversion efforts,” Mayer continued. “You're always left with something. If you really, truly want to get to zero, energy capture fills that need.
“We're looking to reward manufacturers that are making every effort to divert waste from landfills. If they're putting waste to an alternative use, we wouldn't want to punish that.”

More than just earning an environmental certification, Mayer has seen the positive, transforming effects going through the waste-diversion claims validation process can have on organizations.
“The big thing we see – and this is universal – is the development of internal cheerleaders. Employees on the manufacturing floor and in offices that really 'own' the effort. There's an internal competition that you get at manufacturers where multiple locations are going through the process.”

As UL Environment spokesperson Dagmar Ebaugh pointed out:

“One of the benefits is not only getting validation, but also getting insight into manufacturing processes and the cost savings associated with having a cleaner, more streamlined process. That should be factored into the decision-making process.”

“UL Zero-Waste-to-Landfill Claim Validation is very thorough. I appreciated how they track and measure every part of the process,” Mayer Brothers Apple Products' Eric Place was quoted in a UL Environment case study. “We had to implement new systems, processes and additional record keeping to prepare for the first audit in June of 2013.”

Partnering with Waste Management Recycle America and several regional recyclers, Mayer Brothers is now able to manage every by-product stream in their manufacturing process. Mass balance spreadsheets track materials flowing through the facility to their destination as reused or recycled commodities.

Hence, perhaps the biggest achievement and benefit of obtaining a UL 2799 “Zero-Waste-to-Landfill” certification is the institution of a “zero waste” ethic – as well as the enabling tools, methods and systems – throughout manufacturing businesses, as well as across supply chain partners.

*Images credit: 1) Courtesy of UL Environment; 2) Mom Goes Green; 3) Sustainable Manufacturer Network; 4) U.S. EPA

Andrew Burger headshotAndrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

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