4 Steps to Create a Zero Waste Plan

There’s a lot of buzz today about sustainability initiatives. One that we run into often is a Zero Waste program because it frequently has a large impact on a company’s food operations. Add in the pressures of the impending enforcement of SB 1383 here in California, and it may seem like now is the right time to create a Zero Waste plan.
 
But where do you begin in order to create a plan that works for your particular business? The following 4 steps are a great way for any organization to dive into the process, gain some momentum, and determine how to keep the Zero Waste effort moving forward at their business.
 

1. Start with a waste audit

An analysis of your existing waste stream will arm you with the data you need to decide which areas will provide the most benefit so you can prioritize your activities. What is a waste audit? It’s analyzing your trash over a fixed, representative time period, often a week or two.
 
You can decide to conduct your waste audit yourself—not the most fun, but it will give you a personalized perspective about how much waste your business generates and what your waste stream contains. If you decide to pursue this route, you’ll need a team of employees to do the work. Often these teams can be staffed on a volunteer basis, by employees with a sustainability mindset.
 
If going solo is a bit too off-putting, there are numerous options with a range of costs. Some trash haulers conduct audits for their customers, so this could be an option. Particularly with the approaching deadlines for SB 1383 in California, this option may be the most helpful by accomplishing the first step of your Zero Waste journey while also ensuring you’re prepared for complying with SB 1383 requirements.
 
Sometimes local environmental groups or even community colleges may be able to help for a low cost. Or, there are consultants in the space. While more costly, these types of advisory businesses have the expertise and processes to do this effectively and provide you the data you need.
 

2. Next focus on some easy wins

Your waste audit should provide a clear picture of what some of the big offenders in your waste stream may be. Are you seeing lots of recyclable items in the waste bin? Employee education and signage may be step one. Are you seeing that most of your waste is plastic water bottles? Investing in a water filtration system or the proverbial “office water cooler” plus some reusable glasses might be your first step. Whatever you decide, make sure to capture data and images of the before and after to document your progress.
 
One area where we see lots of waste generation is in the use of grab & go dining containers, which can be recyclable plastics or compostable boxes (paper or compressed fiber). In addition to the quantity of material that these generate, often diners are confused about which item goes into which disposal bin, so there is often contamination of waste streams, a big no-no for SB 1383compliance. Switching to a reusable container service like the one Dishcraft provides can be a quick win here.
 

3. Measure your starting point and set targets

The waste audit is a critical starting point for measurement, but you can also pull in data such as energy consumption, water usage, fuel usage, and cost data for items like your waste removal services. (Depending on your business, your potential list for inclusion may be much longer, particularly if you’re manufacturing and shipping products to end users.) You won’t want to forget to tally the potential upsides. For example, you might turn a large amount of excess cardboard into a revenue stream by selling it as a commodity.
 

4. Create and field a communications plan

Your internal communications go hand in hand with each step of the process that you take. Just communicating your decision to create a Zero Waste plan can go far in building support throughout the organization and in setting expectations.
 
Even if you decide to outsource your waste audit, letting employees know that you’re taking this step prepares them to hear the results and be receptive to your quick-win initiatives. If you need to improve waste sorting, starting with the audit results can be helpful in gaining buy-in. And clearly communicating the requirements and new behaviors you’d like employees to abide by will be key to success.
 
Remember to keep things fun and positive rather than being an additional task on busy plates.Over time, you’ll want to make sure that you continue to communicate progress against goals to keep your staff energized.
 
This post is an excerpt from an upcoming guide on determining whether your business should create a Zero Waste plan.
 
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If you’re interested in understanding how Dishcraft can help you reduce waste in your food service operations, contact us and get started on the road to less waste today.

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