We hear a lot these days about Zero Waste; but, what does that mean and how does striving toward Zero Waste help a company’s bottom line?

What does Zero Waste mean?  According to Zero Waste International Alliance, it means, “designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them…” The actual definition is longer, but that is Zero Waste in a nutshell.

According to Captain Charles Moore, founder of Algalita Marine Research and Education, “Zero Waste is a goal we should all be striving for.” At Algalita, we are focused on the issue of waste — particularly plastic — in the ocean. The alarming numbers we are seeing in regards to marine debris tell us that something must change. More studies are looking at the health impacts surrounding the polluting of our ocean and according to the report ‘Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean’ (Jenna Jambeck, et. al), the U.S. is responsible for generating 110,000 metric tons of marine debris per year.

Through waste reduction, recycling, composting, businesses can be better stewards, and SAVE MONEY at the same time. It is simply good business. When a company is able to achieve waste reduction goals, it is telling our community a few things: they care about our community; they care about reducing our negative impact on our beaches/ocean/land/environment; they care about encouraging our employees to be responsible stewards and take those lessons home with them; and they care about our bottom line and saving money.

For a long time, companies were concerned that if they went “green” or implemented sustainable practices, it would be cost prohibitive.  Did you know that most companies that strive toward Zero Waste save money?  How do they do this?

One way is by reducing the amount of waste being sent to the landfills. Businesses pay based on weight/volume.  We have become an over-packaged society.  This is not necessary.  By reducing the amount of waste, refuse bills decrease.  By purchasing goods with less packaging, businesses can reduce their waste.  Make better choices in purchasing office supplies and other single-use items and you will reduce the amount of waste you generate.

Another important tactic is recycling. Businesses are often paid for their recyclables. By source-separating items (i.e., cardboard, paper, glass) into the right bins, companies can be paid for these valuable resources. State law AB341 mandates commercial recycling. The City of Long Beach offers many resources for businesses. Click HERE for more information.

Buckhorn Mesa landfill. (Photo Credit: Alan Levine)

Buckhorn Mesa landfill. (Photo Credit: Alan Levine)

Here in California, we have some great examples of companies striving towards and achieving Zero Waste status. Fetzer Vineyards achieved Zero Waste status and they save approximately $380,000 per year.  Joining the ranks of Fetzer as Zero Waste superstar companies include:  American Licorice Company, Sierra Nevada Brewery, Toyota North American, Earth Friendly Products, to name a few.

As the ‘aquatic capital of America,’ we in Long Beach should be a shining example of how to protect our shores and sea. Together we can achieve so much, but first, we must recognize that change won’t happen unless we take action both individually and collectively.

The U.S. Zero Waste Business Council is a great resource in Southern California for businesses striving to achieve Zero Waste, or who want to substantially reduce their waste.  Check them out and find ways that you and your business can reduce waste today.  There is no time like the present and, while you work towards reducing your waste, you can also be reducing costs and improving your bottom line.


  1. REDUCE: Reduce the purchase of over-packaged items, Print less (not every email needs to be printed out) and print double-sided
  2. REUSE: Provide water fountains/drinking stations so employees may refill reusable water bottles. Encourage the use of reusable items wherever possible.
  3. RECYCLE: Make sure Recycle bins are prominent and next to trash cans; Make sure you know WHAT can be recycled in your area (coordinate with a recycling company, so you get paid for your recyclables)
  4. REFUSE: Refuse items you don’t need. Do you need a phonebook at every desk? Do you need every free item given at conferences/meetings? Will you use them or will they end up in the trash?
  5. RE-TRAIN: This is important to ensure employees are following your waste reduction policies. A basic training on the why/how/where will help employees and help your company. Recycle bins are just trash bins if no one knows to use them.

(This article originally appeared on Algalita. It has been reprinted here with permission.)

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