Waste reduction is the act of preventing waste from being generated in the first place. This can be as simple as using a reusable cup and washing it instead of using a disposable one, or working with suppliers to receive shipments in reusable transport containers instead of cardboard boxes.
You can also reduce hazardous waste by making substitutions for less-hazardous products. If you’d like help with this, contact the Hennepin County hazardous waste inspectors.
Even if your organization is not ready to establish a team and set new policies, there are small actions that are simple and require minimal approval to complete.
Some examples to reduce waste include:
Adopt green purchasing policies, such as selecting products that are less toxic, conserve energy or water, or use recycled-content materials.
Reduce packaging waste by buying supplies in bulk and using reusable shipping containers.
- Host green meetings.
Choose non-hazardous or less-hazardous cleaning products and use reusable towels and rags.
Evaluate your company’s processes to identify ways to use raw materials more efficiently and use less-hazardous alternatives.
- Set printers to default to double-sided printing.
- Reuse mail envelopes and boxes as often as you can.
- Set printers to default to black and white printing and encourage staff to only print in color when needed.
- Invest in a printer management system that allows staff to cancel printing requests at the printer.
- Make reusable, washable dishes available for staff instead of paper disposables.
Create an initiative
There are eight steps to creating an initiative to prevent waste at work. It’s important to gather information and build a team.
- Get management support on authorizing your work and develop a mission statement.
- Organize a team (this may not be your green team). It is important to get key stakeholders involved in this work, not only those who are personally interested in the topic.
- Select a facilitator to keep work organized and on track.
- Educate the entire business, from stating the mission to updating staff on final goals and progress.
- Collect information, brainstorm solutions, and get feedback – can you reduce toxicity, prevent single use items, switch or promote to reusable options, change purchasing policies, etc.
Start by evaluating your current system. Quantify your inbound waste to inform supply chain decision making and prevent waste: Inbound Waste Inventory (XLSX)
- Evaluate each idea based on cost, feasibility, and impact.
- Implement the most promising ideas and track metrics (tonnage of waste streams, cost savings, etc.)
- Continue the program and fine-tune to ensure compliance.
Resource management contracts
Talk to your waste contractor about resource management programs. This will require contracting in a new way with waste contractors that bases compensation on their ability to help your organization accomplish its waste reduction goals rather than the traditional volume of waste disposed.
Reduce transport packaging waste
Cardboard continues to increase in the waste stream, and transport packaging continues to be a significant portion of waste from the business sector. Cardboard is recyclable, but not a necessary part of our transportation system. There are ways to prevent this waste in the first place. Using reusable transport packaging that is wood, metal or plastic can mean using these items for years until they must be disposed of due to wear-and-tear.
Reusable transport packaging is used by leaders in major production and distribution sectors and saves them money by eliminating the purchase and disposal of single use packaging like cardboard boxes and plastic shrink wrap. Some bulky products require this type of packaging due to shock, vibration and abrasion during the shipping process. Reusable transport packaging works when a business:
- Has a closed or managed loop shipping system with a vendor or when multiple vendors can use the same packaging and can create a regular pick-up of empty containers
- Has a constant flow of products in a large volume that allows for reusable transport packaging
How to start
- Identify potential products that are frequently shipped in large volume and are consistent in type, size, shape and weight.
- Estimate the current costs of using one-time or limited-use packaging. Include the costs to purchase, store, handle and dispose of this packaging and the costs of any ergonomic and work safety limitations.
- Develop a geographical report by identifying shipping and delivery points. Evaluate the use of daily and weekly "milk runs" (small, daily truck routes) and consolidation centers (loading docks used to sort, clean and stage reusable transport packaging). Focus on opportunities to implement just-in-time delivery strategies.
- Review reusable transport packaging options and costs by investigating the various types of packaging and systems available to move them through the supply chain.
- Estimate the cost of reverse logistics (defined below) based on the shipping and delivery points identified in the geographical report.
- Develop a preliminary cost comparison between one-time or limited-use transport packaging and reusable transport packaging. If the preliminary cost comparison indicates that a reusable transport packaging system will save money, a company may want to seek outside assistance to design and implement a reusable transport packaging system.
California has a website for businesses to learn more: Use Reusables.
Sustainable purchasing is one of the best ways your organization can demonstrate to employees and others that sustainability and the environment are important parts of your organization’s mission. By adopting policies that set purchasing requirements you can establish the environmental, economic and social expectations of the products and services your organizations buys. Some quick examples are switching to 100% post-consumer recycled content paper or buying only fair trade coffee for cafés and coffee stations. To accomplish this, an organization will need to set up governance structures to manage purchasing of products and services at the organization, assess, review and prioritize what products to approve, to establish a policy and action plan, and to implement the new or revised sustainable purchasing program. Learn more at Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s website.
The Minnesota Technical Assistance Program is a leading Minnesota resource for best practices information. Technical specialists focus by sector to better understand specific industry challenges: the processes, wastes and regulations. MnTAP works to turn those challenges into cost-saving opportunities by offering tailored solutions. MnTAP works with Minnesota manufacturers and industrial service businesses that generate hazardous waste, with technical assistance that includes site visits, an intern program, and information by phone or the web. Learn more about MnTap.
Use the Minnesota Materials Exchange to donate your used materials and equipment to reduce the cost of disposal and receive tax benefits for donated items in usable or working condition.