North America Knows How to Achieve Zero Waste — the Key Is in Our Infrastructure

May 11, 2018

Recycling initiatives are nothing new, but companies that depend on efficient hazardous waste management should be keen to the infrastructure that is operating right now and dedicated to those who need to know how to achieve zero waste. At Veolia, this applies to numerous spaces: household materials, the automotive industry, and electronics that don’t have a clear future once their useful life has expired.

But businesses looking to strengthen their CSR efforts have some important criteria for what deserves their attention. It should — among other things — be economical, respectful of employee time, and serving of any local compliance needs they may have. Here are three cities that are demonstrating zero waste initiatives, conserving resources, and adhering to today’s demanding environmental policy.

New York, NY

In 2016, New York City collected more than 850,000 pounds of hazardous waste for beneficial reuse.

The average American citizen produces 4 pounds of harmful household waste per year. This includes motor oil, pesticides, latex paint, and similar materials whose toxicity can be detrimental to wildlife and local waterways. In New York City, the Department of Sanitation partners with Veolia to host events for the collection of household hazardous products (HHP) in each borough, ensuring individuals know where to discard these materials safely and how to achieve zero waste in the process.

Much of the waste people generate isn’t just harmful to the environment when disposed of; it’s also more valuable when repurposed. Rather than emptying refuse into the sink, toilet or garbage, New Yorkers can leverage these collection events — as well as local facilities and mail-in programs — that turn this refuse into useable byproducts. Certain contents are even converted to biofuel for industrial operations. This reduces the municipal waste stream, minimizes waste management costs and can be completed in a weekend.

Dearborn, MI

In the Midwest, zero waste has a numerical value: eight million pounds, or the amount of manufacturing waste Ford Motor Company is diverting from the landfill each year.

Indeed, commercial spaces often have more hazardous waste than is manageable at a community collection event. Ford Rouge (and 68 other Ford manufacturing plants worldwide) is a terrific model for how even the most waste-intensive facilities can build a non-invasive management strategy into its daily operations. By making small-scale investments in renewables, such as solar-powered compactors, the company was able to qualify for large waste-to-energy initiatives across the region and make a substantial contribution to the circular economy. The factory declared itself Zero Waste to Landfill in July of 2016.

Pickering, Canada

In Ontario, Canada, landfill dependence is now heavily regulated, banning all lamps from landfills by 2020. Naturally, this pressures homes and businesses to find more cost-efficient methods of waste management that also keeps them compliant. Right now, only 24 percent of the 600 million lamps are recycled per local policy.

With that in mind, a new 5,000-square-foot electronics recycling facility offers opportunities to organizations that need an easy and sustainable solution to these restrictions across Ontario. A replica of facilities operated by Veolia in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Arizona and Florida, this Pickering-based site accepts mercury-containing electronics nationwide and isolates the glass, metal, and phosphor powder for reuse.

Not only does this ensure organizations remain lawful entering the new decade, but it sets a tremendous bar of convenience for provinces across Canada when looking to conserve resources and make the transition to more energy-efficient lighting. Read more about this facility here and see how fluorescent lamps are recycled below.

Ontario isn’t the only region whose environmental policy is extending to more end-users. Cities across North America are aligning their industrial operations with ambitious CO2-reduction goals in the same time frame, and the average enterprise must follow suit. Fortunately, zero waste is within reach — we just need to know where to look.

[Editor’s Note: Veolia North America’s Ashley Paulsworth, Sustainability Program Manager, as well as Mike Byrnes, Chief Operating Officer, Veolia SourceOne, were featured speakers at the Chamber Foundation’s recent 2018 Sustainability and Circular Economy Summit. For more information on the event, click here.]