When I consider the “Waste Management” industry, a certain perspective or a certain way of thinking comes to mind. This way of thinking is encompassed, unfortunately, in the industry name itself – “Waste Management”. What this naming convention creates is an environment or a thought process by companies, institutions and individuals that always has Waste at the forefront. When we assume right out of the gate materials are waste, the likelihood that we will label materials as recyclable becomes less and less. Why do we always think waste first? Is it just easier to throw materials in the garbage than in the recycling bin? This perception and this way of thinking are hindering our ability to drive sustainability plans forward. What if this perception changed? What if as a consumer or as a business owner we began our process by assuming all materials were recyclable and through careful analysis decide what can’t be recovered and, only then, classify it as waste? What if the industry changed from “Waste Management” to “Discarded Material Management”?
When I think about successful recycling/recovery programs at any size or type of business they all share one underlying principal – they have left behind the notion of waste management and have switched gears to focus on ‘Discarded Material Management’. What’s the difference? Well within discarded material management, these organizations are not assuming anything is waste. They are putting programs in place that allow them to understand what discards are being generated, where they are being generated and how to collect them efficiently and effectively. This is leading to more and more materials being recovered, increasing diversion rates and reducing the amount of waste generated and the costs associated with managing it. These sustainability leaders are choosing to look at their programs much differently than before. They are analyzing each aspect of the internal process thinking there is a positive end of life for all discards and their recovery and eventually Recycling is top of mind. As new widgets are added to their process they are continually re-evaluating their program to ensure each widget can be collected and recycled. In the case that it can’t, we will see business look at design and when possible make changes to the widget that will result in a positive end of life. And only when all fails, will that widget become waste.
My goal is one day the word ‘waste’ and the concept of ‘waste management’ are removed from our vocabulary and become a thing of the past. I am confident together we can help recover more, waste less and truly have a positive impact in our homes and our communities. As we continue the sustainability journey forward I encourage you as an individual or business owner to ask more questions about the materials being collected. In order to drive diversion rates higher and reduce overall waste costs we need to start re-engineering our collection and material management process. Why is that widget waste? Why can’t it be recycled? Has someone actually told you its non-recoverable or are you just ‘assuming’ its waste?