People in yellow safety vests wearing gloves while picking through trash

Reimagining Zero Waste: Five New Ways to Recognize Your Waste Diversion Success

Original Publication: SCS Global Services

By Vikas Ahuja,

It’s hard to believe, but the term “zero waste” has been around for more than 40 years. It was first used by a chemist, Paul Palmer, who noticed an abundance of clean chemicals being discarded by high-tech businesses in a newly developing area of northern California which we’ve all come to know as Silicon Valley. He saw a need for identifying new uses for the chemicals and a new concept of zero waste was born.

Fast forward to today and you can’t escape the global catastrophe of waste that has bloomed…in our oceans, in our landfills, and all over as millions of tons of trash are discarded daily. Globally, 1.3 billion tons of landfill waste are created each year, not to mention 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic waste that end up in our oceans. Americans are among the worst in waste generation, with the average American responsible for 4.4 pounds of trash per day totaling about 728,000 tons of daily garbage—and that doesn’t even include industrial waste. According to the US EPA, municipalities generated nearly 293 million tons of solid waste in 2018, with only 94 million tons being recycled or composted.

Increasingly, municipalities, organizations such as universities, and local NGOs are providing programs to reduce and divert waste with a goal of zero waste. And as the corporate world has embraced the concept of the circular economy, numerous corporate zero waste programs and certifications have become available within the global business community. However, many of these programs have created roadblocks that have prohibited large numbers of facilities from participating.

With the launch of our new Zero Waste Certification Program, SCS has made it possible for more companies and in particular, individual facilities within larger corporate structures, to participate in a zero waste program and be recognized for the waste diversion, re-use and recycling that they are already doing.

Here are five ways this new program helps companies to demonstrate and certify their waste achievements and benchmark their corporate zero waste goals.

  1. Be Recognized for What You’ve Done
    Typical zero waste programs and certifications are black and white, requiring a company or facility to meet a waste diversion threshold of 99% before they can become certified “zero waste.” The SCS Zero Waste Certification Program changes things up a bit by allowing the actual diversion percentage achieved at each facility over a twelve-month period to be certified, with the specific claim reflected on the certificate. Individual facilities can be recognized under the standard by demonstrating diversion of 50% waste or more. Facilities achieving 99% diversion are certified as “Zero Waste.”
  2. Cost-Effective Multi-Site Solution
    Another key differentiator of the SCS Zero Waste Certification Program deals with the issue of onsite auditing, which can often drive the cost up for companies with multiple sites and facilities. The program has a special provision where all participating sites are fully assessed, but only a representative sampling of sites is conducted for on-site audits each year to provide greater economies of scale.
  3. Hazardous Waste Diversion Counts
    For companies that generate hazardous waste, the SCS Zero Waste Certification Program allows for a diversion of hazardous waste to count towards the overall waste diversion, provided that it can be demonstrated that this waste has been prevented with re-design, repurposed or reused in a safe manner. To comply with the SCS standard, the facility must demonstrate that all hazardous material that is not repurposed or reused has been disposed of in accordance with legal requirements of the region in which they operate.
  4. Waste-to-Energy Included
    The SCS standard also recognizes waste-to-energy achievements, as long as a facility diverts no more than 25% of its waste to waste-to-energy production. Other zero waste programs specifically exclude waste-to-energy as a viable waste diversion methodology. Waste-to-energy inclusion is beneficial because some companies may be operating in a region where their waste is not easily recycled, composted, or reused. To use waste-to-energy as a diversion method for more than 25% of the total waste stream, the company must demonstrate that there are no facilities that can recycle, compost, or otherwise reuse the material within a reasonable distance.
  5. Benchmark Success Facility-by-Facility
    Since the SCS certification takes place at the facility level, with each facility being audited and benchmarked as its own entity, corporations can include the findings for that specific facility in their overall sustainability goals and reporting, even if other facilities have not yet achieved the same levels of waste diversion. This new approach encourages corporations to benchmark best practices at one facility year over year and expand those practices across their corporate facility footprint. In this way a company can show progress not only at the individual facility level, but also a more comprehensive corporate year-over-year view of how they are managing their waste and working towards achieving their zero waste goals.

It's time to reimagine zero waste at the corporate level and open the door for more companies to certify and demonstrate the waste diversion they have already achieved. The SCS Zero Waste Certification Program allows companies to be recognized for the work they are already doing, and the diversion they have already achieved, rather than shutting them out because they have not reached a 90% or 99% threshold. Any waste diversion, re-use or reduction is a net positive for the planet and society. Now companies can be recognized and inspired to do even more than they’re already doing.

More information about the program is available here.

Media Contact
Victoria Norman 
Executive Director
Send an email