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Are steps towards “zero waste” worth it?

Are steps towards “zero waste” worth it?

The idea of moving towards a “Zero Waste” world seems too farfetched for some people on the business end of the spectrum to take seriously. Even so, consumers are starting to value businesses that are more sustainably-minded, beyond simple “greenwashing.” Many skeptics seem to think that this is some idealized, unobtainable goal, when in fact there are very reachable and accessible methods of taking a few beginning steps towards Zero Waste. Plus, consumers aren’t just attracted to companies that generate Zero Waste; they value ones that are putting forth real efforts into making those first few steps to solving their own waste generation problems.  

A good way of not going about reaching green-conscious consumers is exemplified by petroleum giant BP. After spending $45 million in acquiring the solar energy company Solarex, BP subsequently spent an additional $200 million around public relations just to get the word out about it. The effort to actually make a sustainable impact was foiled when consumers found out about it, and the blatantly obvious green washing efforts had them in an uproar.

On the other hand, certain companies have made real concerted efforts into limiting their environmental impact. On great example is Kimberly-Clark Professional (KCP) and parent Kimberly-Clark Corp., who have already made the commitment to divert all their manufacturing waste from landfills by 2015. Kimberly-Clark Professional’s RightCycle program has already helped to collect and recycle over 150,000 pounds of disposable cleanroom garments and gloves, and their Global Nonwovens division already diverts more than 99 percent of its manufacturing waste.

Not only do sustainability-building efforts, like Kimberly-Clark’s, radiate feelings of social responsibility throughout the industry, but they also put value back into waste materials that would have otherwise ended up unused in a landfill. For certain products, like aluminum cans and plastic bottles, using recycled materials for manufacturing can actually be cheaper than making new ones from virgin material. To quantify this relatively untapped resource, the EPA notes that only about 8 percent of plastics in the U.S., including plastics in flexible packaging like chip bags, actually ended up being recycled in 2011.

TerraCycle’s newest recycling innovation, Zero Waste Boxes, are just one answer for this massive problem, presenting a solution to one of the biggest concerns for companies and consumers about limiting their generation of waste: how can recycling be done simply and conveniently?

There are four types of boxes ranging in price based on the amount of waste separation involved in the recycling process: the low-cost, waste stream-specific Sponsored Boxes are for items and packaging like baby food pouches, diaper and wipe packaging, and individual-wrapped cheese packaging.

Boxes that require a bit more separation include the Category Separation Boxes, for items like coffee discs and pods, e-waste, and laminated paper packaging. Room Separation Boxes for the bathroom, kitchen, or bedroom allow for even more types of waste to be collected in one box, while the premium Zero Waste choice, the No Separation Box, accepts all non-recyclable material that is non-organic and non-hazardous.

Consumers are smart, and they are taking steps themselves towards a world of Zero Waste. Considering Americans generate about seven pounds of trash per person every day, it’s not surprising that people are starting to notice that solutions to waste are a necessity. Interestingly enough, in July of 2011 an Ipsos poll revealed that the top reason Americans typically do not recycle isn’t because they don’t notice the benefits, but because it is not convenient enough based on where they live.

Corporations are starting to take sustainability seriously, and consumers are noticing. Being “green conscious” not only adds value back into manufacturing-generated waste, but it exudes a level of responsibility that will resonate with consumers. A world of Zero Waste obviously won’t happen overnight, but those first few steps taken by industry-leaders can most definitely guide the way.

Author Tom Szaky, founder/CEO of TerraCycle, has won more than 50 awards for entrepreneurship, also writes blogs for Treehugger and The New York Times, recently published a book called "Revolution in a Bottle" and is the star of a National Geographic Channel special, "Garbage Moguls."

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