Monday, June 18, 2012

Zero waste: some people don't think it is possible to have a zero-wasteoperation.

Throughout history, man has created waste. As the industrial revolution kicked into high gear and the population grew, the waste piles increased. Around the middle of the 20th century, people grew interested in finding ways to reuse some of the generated wastes. Members of the hippy movement of the '60s came together in the '70s to form commune groups, making recycling a real group effort.


Today, companies often make purchasing decisions based on the ability to recycle or how biodegradable they might be. Many companies are finding that such actions save considerable dollars as the costs for disposal are greatly reduced, or even eliminated.

The concept of zero waste seems simple. The idea is that as materials come into a plant, none of it is sent to a landfill or a disposal company after the product is completed. Scraps are reused, new markets are found for byproducts and the rest of the materials are sent to a recycling company

Can it be done?

There are plenty of skeptics that do not believe most plants can become zero-waste operations. They argue it cannot be done in a fiscally responsible way. While nearly anything might be possible, is it really worth any cost? If a product that normally sells for one Dollar ends up selling for $20 in order to achieve zero waste, will there be a market to sell the product?

California recently passed a rule requiring companies to acknowledge all of the chemical constituents of their products. If the state decides one of the chemicals could be considered hazardous, they will tell the company to find another chemical to use. Only time will tell how such a rule will impact product quality.

The federal EPA followed suit and passed a similar rule. Additionally, they are going to begin denying companies the ability to declare confidentiality. In the past, a company could declare that certain chemical information should remain confidential to avoid allowing competitors the ability to know their processes. If the EPA has its way, there will be fewer corporate secrets and they will have more control over what chemicals are used in production processes.

While the goals of these projects seem noble enough, the consumer may not be pleased. For example, most people can enjoy a good chocolate chip cookie. But, if the butter is not used in the recipe and carob chips are substituted for the chocolate, consumers will not be pleased with the results, even if it is edible. A case in point comes to mind when vegetarians tried to introduce the tofu turkey as a substitute for turkey. After all this time, faux turkey is just not catching on.

Don't give up

The goal of zero waste may seem lofty but that does not mean that it is unachievable. Consider that McDonald's Corp. traditionally wins the best french fries category each year. A few years ago, some activists groups put pressure on the company saying that the oils they used were causing their customers to consume unhealthy fats.

The company put their crack research team on a project to come up with healthier oil while maintaining the taste customers had come to expect. After years of searching, they now use a healthier oil in their process and the taste is preserved.

Some automotive manufactures have proclaimed that some of their facilities have achieved zero waste. The single largest impact on their waste control was to require suppliers use reusable shipping containers. Now, when a shipment of parts arrives, they reload the empty containers to be returned to the supplier. Toyota Motor Sales said that they saved 17.6 million pounds of wood and cardboard in 2008 with the implementation of such a program.

Ideas abound on ways to reduce waste. Search the Internet for "zero waste." Add the name of a company to the search to find what steps are being taken by others. Then take a look around or create a waste panel with the floor staff to brainstorm ideas. Just don't give up.

Bigham, Roy

Source Citation
Bigham, Roy. "Zero waste: some people don't think it is possible to have a zero-waste operation. With today's available technology, we can get really close." Pollution Engineering June 2012: 40. Environmental Studies and Policy. Web. 18 June 2012.
Document URL

Gale Document Number: GALE|A292088547

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