When your business is planning for materials purchasing and waste disposal, it’s important to consider the environment and the climate — and to think about how you can limit your consumption and waste production and reduce your carbon footprint. If resource consumption continues according to historical trends, global resource extraction could balloon to 190 billion tons a year by 2060, and the resulting greenhouse gas emission levels could increase by 43%. These unsustainable levels of waste production could lead to uncontrolled climate changes and dramatic changes to life on earth.
Fortunately, companies can do their part to resist climate change by making their consumption and waste disposal practices more eco-friendly. In the guide below, we’ll discuss why reducing your waste and carbon footprint is so critical and provide some options for helping your business become part of the solution.
Why Reducing Your Footprint Matters
Why does reducing your waste and carbon footprint matter so much? Excessive waste production has several harmful effects on the environment, our health and the long-term prospects for humans on earth. Reducing waste production provides the following benefits:
1. Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Throwing away tons of waste every year means producing tons of new products every year to replace discarded items. Producing new items in factories means burning fossil fuels, like petroleum, and producing tons of harmful greenhouse gases in the process. And transporting those products around the world, whether by truck, rail, ship or plane, burns even more fossil fuels and generates even more greenhouse gas emissions.
The harms of greenhouse gases for the planet are well documented. Greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, are opaque to the infrared radiation that the earth’s surface emits after the sun’s energy warms it. Instead of passing harmlessly through the atmosphere and dissipating into space, that radiation becomes trapped behind the greenhouse gases. It remains in the atmosphere and inexorably warms the planet.
Rising temperatures, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, melting polar ice, habitat destruction and increasingly severe weather events are just some of the results of that warming, which so far even international accords have been unable to curtail.
2. Protecting the Environment and Human Health
The amount of waste the United States throws away each year — about 267 million tons of municipal solid waste alone, with industrial wastes only adding to that figure — has a profoundly detrimental effect on the world we live in. As we use more and more land for factories and landfills, we encroach on natural habitats, pollute ecosystems and risk biodiversity loss. The extraction and processing of fuels, materials and even food contribute to a staggering 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress worldwide. And the waste we throw away contaminates the environments where wildlife once thrived, making migration, reproduction, and daily life more difficult and resulting in thousands of deaths each year.
Burning fossil fuels has dire consequences for the air we breathe and for our respiratory health. Pollution diminishes air quality and can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory conditions, and it can also lead to a higher risk for strokes, heart attacks and premature death.
3. Leaving Resources for Future Generations
Much of the world’s energy comes from fossil fuels, but these resources are not renewable. They formed over millions of years as prehistoric organisms died and became compressed under the weight of the earth’s crust and oceans – and the earth is not regenerating more. When fossil fuels like petroleum and its derivatives are gone, they will be gone forever. Cutting down on waste also cuts down on new production, which means using less fossil fuel and leaving more for the generations to come.
Six Ways to Reduce Your Footprint
If you’re ready to tackle the immensely worthwhile project of reducing your carbon footprint, here are six steps to help you get started:
1. Go Paperless
Paper makes up a significant amount of waste — between 28% and 33% of all municipal solid waste, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Going paperless allows your facility to help address these high levels of waste. Moving your paperwork, billing, handbooks and documentation to electronic formats enables you to avoid throwing away huge reams of paper. And even if your office already recycles paper, going paperless is still an excellent step. Going paperless helps prevent deforestation, and consuming less paper also means producing less paper, which means burning fewer fossil fuels in production and transport.
Going paperless can help save your business money, as well. Think about how much of your budget you allocate for purchasing paper and printing or copying supplies. If you removed those costs by putting the bulk of your paperwork online, you could reallocate those funds toward innovations, developments and helping your company grow.
Increasingly, consumers care about choosing companies that are taking steps to reduce their waste and carbon footprint. A recent survey found that 81% of consumers worldwide feel strongly that companies should do their part to help protect and improve the environment. Reducing paper waste in your company and shrinking your carbon footprint as you do so has many environmental benefits, and it is also likely to attract forward-thinking clients and help you earn their loyalty.
2. Invest in Durable, Sustainable Products
Investing in durable, sustainable products can help your company become more eco-friendly and provide a wealth of other benefits at the same time.
To boost your company’s sustainability practices, consider investing in sustainable technology, such as solar panels. Businesses can install solar panels in either ground arrays or roof arrays. They are relatively cost-effective, and companies generally receive a federal tax credit to offset some of the installation costs. They can also help lower utility bills and substantially reduce greenhouse gas production, since 100% of their power output comes from thermal energy from the sun.
Another way to invest in durable, sustainable materials is to ask questions about the expected lifespan of the materials and products you buy. Be willing to investigate the longevity of different models and put more money into a product that will last over time. Thinking ahead in your purchasing helps keep your equipment running longer and reduces the number of broken machines you have to send to landfills. It’s also a smart business strategy in general — spending a little more upfront for equipment that will last much longer is likely to save you money over the long term.
And if your company manufactures products for consumers or businesses, you have an opportunity to develop and produce durable, sustainable products yourself. Consider how you can create longer-lasting materials, so your products won’t end up in the landfill in a year or two.
A 2020 study has confirmed that today’s washing machines tend to break down two years sooner than they did a decade ago because their circuitry was not designed for longevity and sustainability. But products don’t have to be designed for a short life and a long grave. If you can advertise to customers that your products are built to last, their quality, longevity and eco-friendliness can be a huge draw.
Think about how you can source recycled, recyclable or renewable materials — like bamboo or recycled paper, plastics and rubbers. Using these materials helps cut down on waste and the burning of fossil fuels associated with the production of new materials.
3. Reuse When Possible
Another excellent way to reduce waste and shrink your carbon footprint is to reuse products. If your business contains an office environment, consider keeping a supply of reusable paper clips instead of staplers and staples, and reuse envelopes and file folders when you can by relabeling them. If you get new computers, think about how you can continue using the old ones in other areas of your business. Or if you get new office furniture for your client areas, consider moving the old furniture into staff areas instead of throwing it away.
If your business is a construction company, consider how you can reuse materials for other projects. You can break down old concrete and use it as a base for new driveways. You can shred old rubber tires and other products and create rubber mulch for kids’ playgrounds and landscaping projects. Depending on their condition, you can also salvage boards, metal and glass and either reuse them in new projects or send them to other companies that can turn them into usable materials — such as by melting down the metal for use in manufacturing.
Even when your business can’t reuse an entire product, you may be able to reuse individual components. With old electronics, for instance, you may be able to salvage the metal components for use in other products. Even if you cannot recover the components yourself, consider sending old products to a facility that can retrieve essential parts for reuse.
4. Buy Recycled and Refurbished
Purchasing recycled and refurbished products is critical because it reduces the demand for new items and cuts down the levels of greenhouse gases associated with new production.
If your company belongs to the construction or manufacturing industry, consider how you can use recycled materials in your projects and consumer products. Recycled plastics, wood, rubber, concrete and asphalt are just a few of the recycled materials available. If your company needs new equipment or electronics, you can save money and do your part for the environment by looking into refurbished rather than brand-new models.
Recycled plastic products, in particular, provide a promising new way forward. Many of us have heard the dire, compelling statistics about the world’s plastic problem — that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans, that the world produces nearly one million plastic beverage bottles every sixty seconds and that only 9.5% of all plastic ever made has been recycled. But promising new recycling programs offer some hope — consider Proctor&Gamble’s 100%-recycled Head and Shoulders shampoo bottle, made entirely of chopped-up plastic waste harvested from the beach.
Not all companies have access to Fourier-transform infrared spectrometers to help categorize plastic waste. Still, looking into new advances that allow for the use of recycled materials to create new products can have a tremendous positive impact on waste and carbon emissions reduction.
5. Consider Waste-To-Energy Programs
Waste-to-energy programs solve two problems: they dispose of waste responsibly and produce sustainable energy without relying on fossil fuels.
In the past, many facilities disposed of their waste by incinerating it. This incineration produced a tremendous amount of heat, but no processes existed to capture that heat and use it for energy. Incineration also tended to produce large volumes of pollutants and greenhouse gases, so it was not a tremendously environmentally friendly solution.
Now, systems exist to transform that heat into steam energy. The heat boils water, the water creates steam, and the steam drives generators that produce electrical energy and heat for commercial and residential use. And waste-to-energy facilities typically have systems in place to control the release of toxic byproducts and greenhouse gases by capturing them before they enter the atmosphere.
After incineration is complete, some waste products remain. About 20% of the remaining waste is nontoxic bottom ash. In the United States, this ash often goes on to line landfills to protect against leaks or goes into landfills itself as waste. In Europe, it often becomes material for building or road construction. The incineration also produces a small amount of hazardous ash that facilities must dispose of safely and according to federal regulations.
6. Recycle Waste and Hire a Waste Professional
One of the easiest ways to reduce waste and diminish your carbon footprint is to recycle your waste. Recycling your facility’s waste can take several different forms:
- Implementing a recycling program with bins where employees can put their paper, plastic, glass and aluminum products.
- Assessing the waste produced during construction or manufacturing processes and determining what can go to recycling centers for processing and reuse.
- Reusing waste where possible in different company projects.
- Selling waste to other companies for use in other projects.
- Selling waste to other companies to be broken or melted down into raw materials.
And for all types of environmentally conscious waste management, consider hiring a professional waste disposal company. Waste professionals have the experience, facilities and technical expertise to treat and dispose of waste using methods that have minimal impact on the environment.
As a full-service professional waste management company, VLS Environmental Services (VLS) has the tools, teams and experience to meet these needs. For nearly 30 years, VLS has improved manufacturers and businesses by examining their sustainability needs and recommending a personalized waste process to meet their demands. Whether it is recycling, wastewater treatment, waste-to-energy or landfill, VLS can help you find the waste disposal solution you need to feel good about your carbon footprint and overall environmental impact.
Contact VLS for All Your Waste Disposal Needs
To see the benefits of working with a full-service disposal and treatment company for waste reduction, contact VLS. We offer a variety of waste treatment, recycling and disposal services for waste products such as manufacturing waste, construction waste, pharmaceutical waste, oil and gas industry waste and marine waste. And we are happy to work with your facility toward compliant, innovative, ethical and sustainable waste solutions.
Contact us today to learn more.