By Ana Wyssmann, Solid Waste Program Manager, JLL
Imagine a building that, like a forest, leaves no material unused and extracts the deepest value from all its parts. That same building can also wow tenants, investors and the public alike with its sustainability and business savvy.
Now, let's check that zero waste vision against reality: Is it possible for an office building, mixed-use facility or worksite to avoid sending any waste to incineration or into a landfill? And is it worth the cost to find out?
Some future-focused global companies have begun to think so.
Walmart, for example, is "targeting zero waste," and is diverting more than 80 percent of its U.S. retail and distribution material flow. GM's blueprint for going "landfill-free" includes recycling 84 percent of its worldwide manufacturing waste and operating 111 fully landfill-free facilities. Dell has come within a hair of zero, achieving 95 percent recycle/reuse in its manufacturing operations in its 2015 fiscal year.
Such progress indicates that zero-waste status is attainable and cost-effective—when pursued with a forward-looking approach to selecting and using materials and then determining what happens to them when their useful life is over.
Waste material or wasted opportunity?
It's logical to expect that reducing, reusing and recycling material could fuel efficiency across a facility’s entire life cycle, from design and construction through office management and operations.
Yet, the benefits extend much further. When you spend less on new, single-use materials in addition to generating revenue from recycling what cannot be reused, you are actually converting 'trash to cash,' as discussed at a recent Greenbuild International Conference panel.
Indeed, recycling and resale can influence the bottom line for a building. Much like stocks, recyclable materials are commodities in an exchange market where values are constantly in flux. When 'trading’ goes smoothly, zero waste campaigns produce returns that more than offset the expenses of recycling infrastructure improvements.
The recycling commodities market is growing, particularly as technology advances. According to Waste Business Journal's most recent Waste Market Overview & Outlook, the $55 billion U.S. waste industry grew to 621.5 million tons in 2011, up from 610.2 million tons in 2010. Of the 429 million tons generated by municipalities, 141 million tons (33 percent) were recycled.
To enter the evolving market—and therefore earn the potential rewards—businesses must start by building a strong platform for zero-waste ambitions.
Five ways to pursue zero-waste
Zero-waste planning means more than just recycling bins and pick-up schedules. Following are five essentials for developing a strategy:
Go ahead: Make your trash a commodity and convert that trash to cash.