By Eric Rankin
VP, Environmental, Health and Safety
Roughly 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste will be in landfills by 2050, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. As plastic and other non-biodegradable materials pile up at this unprecedented rate, so does the environmental impact on our planet. Landfill waste is linked to the release of methane and other potent greenhouse gas emissions, pollution of groundwater, contamination of waterways and negative effects on local wildlife.
Organizations need to do their part to keep waste out of landfills. Companies in particular are responsible for unique sets of waste streams throughout their operations and supply chain. While recycling programs can help, having a comprehensive zero waste to landfill strategy in place is an effective, reliable route to significantly reduce operational waste footprints. At Ingersoll Rand, we’re on our journey to zero waste to landfill for all non-hazardous waste materials. Along the way, we’re learning what’s effective and what can hinder progress on zero waste goals. We’ve found these steps can help successfully implement and deploy a zero waste to landfill strategy:
The first and most critical step is to understand your waste. One way to do this: dumpster diving. Get a team together and safely dump out a trash bin to organize and document every type of waste. This exercise will help you visually understand what is sent to landfills and better address what materials you’ll need to find alternative reuse or recycling streams for. Although a bit messy, some groups may find this exercise eye-opening and helps them better understand what the organization is sending to landfill.
Now that you have an inventory of waste materials, the next step is moving upstream to identify vendors who will recycle or find a reuse for each material. This is also an opportunity to examine your current vendors and ensure you’re aware of all of their services and offerings. Many organizations, however, determine they need to identify new companies who will find a home for certain materials. Unfortunately, not all vendors are transparent about alternative disposal methods. Some vendors may often opt for burning waste – which has negative environmental impacts. Conduct your due diligence on where your waste is going to help ensure vendors are following appropriate measures.
Changing the disposal method of a waste stream requires internal coordination and buy-in. In addition to engaging stakeholders for a smooth transition to new vendors, think about how you’re going to spread the message with employees. This will help ensure that new processes are sustained and properly followed. Employees will need to be aware of the exact disposal changes. For example, employees may need to be repeatedly reminded that commonly thrown out materials, such as shrink wrap or plastic ties, should be placed in recycling bins.
Make your zero waste to landfill commitments part of your operations. Take Ingersoll Rand’s Club Car, for example. In Club Car’s manufacturing plants, waste generation points were built into assembly lines. This leaves no confusion for what to recycle and when – and bins can be easily delivered to proper vendors.
Communicating progress toward goals and sharing key performance indicators with employees will also support engagement and buy-in. On-the-ground employees may benefit from regular updates, and you may find that individuals company-wide are interested in understanding and supporting your organization’s commitment to lowering waste. Advancing zero waste to landfill commitments will not be possible without dedicated employees.
Take it a step further
Many industries, such as manufacturing, handle unique materials that may prove difficult to find alternative disposal methods. Eliminating these materials from your operations is even better than finding a reuse. If that’s not possible, aim to find an alternative, more easily recycled material. Pursuing strategies for lowering overall waste generation where possible should play an important role in your zero waste to landfill commitments.
The most important thing we can do – as consumers and as producers– is understand our impacts and find ways to do better. If we all take collective action, we can improve our waste problem and make our environment cleaner, healthier and more sustainable.
Eric Rankin is the vice president of environmental, health and safety (EHS) for Ingersoll Rand. He is a member of the operational leadership team for global integrated supply chain and the external advisory board for sustainability. Eric has overall responsibility to provide strategic leadership for all environmental, health and safety matters globally at all manufacturing operations, service locations and customer locations. Responsibilities include the development and deployment of policies and programs to reduce occupational injuries; ensure compliance with federal, state and local laws; minimize Ingersoll Rand’s impact on the environment by reducing emissions, waste and water consumption; perform due diligence and assess long-term liabilities for potential acquisitions or divestitures; and deliver responsible care for long-term environmental liabilities.