Why Should You Care About Preventing Waste? Small Business Guide
Every business generates waste. For some, it may be only waste paper or dirty water; for others, it may be hazardous or toxic wastes that require special handling and disposal. Whatever the type or volume of waste your company generates, it is all the same in one respect - it is costing you money! In fact, you're paying for it twice - once when you buy it and the second time when you throw it away. The bottom line is that preventing waste will save you money.
By consuming and throwing away less, you will reduce the need to handle, treat, and dispose of waste. Waste prevention can take many forms, including:
- Purchasing durable, long-lasting materials
- Striving to eliminate raw materials that are not incorporated into your final product or service
- Using products that are free of toxic materials
- Reducing the amount of packaging
- Conserving water and/or energy
- Implementing in-process recycling
Many waste prevention efforts, such as two-sided printing and using e-mail in place of printed copies, are inexpensive and simple to implement, often involving only a change in attitude or work procedures.
Waste prevention is a business strategy from which any company, regardless of size or type, can benefit. In addition to cost savings, it can also help you improve worker safety, reduce liability, and enhance your image in the community. Furthermore, if the waste you are eliminating or reducing is regulated under state or federal law - and your reductions are significant enough - you might be able to avoid costly permits and government approvals.
It's the right thing to do!
In addition to these financial advantages, waste prevention is the right thing to do. Preventing waste prevents pollution, making your neighborhood and community a safer, healthier place to live. In the end, you benefit, the environment benefits, the community benefits, and your company establishes itself as a good corporate citizen, providing immeasurable, lasting rewards.
How Does Recycling Fit In?
Recycling is the process whereby materials that would have become waste are converted into new materials and products. Many companies realize that it makes both economic and environmental sense to recycle a material rather than dispose of it. However, the recycling process still requires handling, energy use, and reprocessing. The key thing to remember is that the materials you are sending to the recycler represent lost revenues because they are not becoming a part of your product or service.
You can make waste prevention a routine part of daily business, just like worker safety and customer satisfaction. A little time and effort can go a long way toward success by following these basic steps:
1. Determine what wastes you generate.
- Examine all of your waste streams, including process wastes, hazardous wastes, nonhazardous wastes, solid wastes, and office waste. Look in trash cans and dumpsters to determine what materials are being thrown away and consider what wastes are poured down the drain, such as rinse waters and process waters. Examine your energy and water consumption and look for high and low usage trends in your water and electric bills.
- Characterize each waste stream - determine where the waste comes from, what processes generate it, and how much is being discarded.
2. Identify waste prevention measures.
- Evaluate all wastes for possible reduction. Determine how you can reduce each waste, evaluate your purchasing policies, and determine what you can reuse.
- Identify potential production changes that would improve efficiency, including process, equipment, piping, and layout changes.
- Investigate opportunities for new products or ingredients that prevent waste generation.
- Identify resources that will help you conduct a waste reduction assessment at your business. Trade associations and state and local regulatory agencies might be able to provide technical assistance, and your equipment vendor might have suggestions to reduce wastes. Also, consider hiring a consultant who specializes in identifying potential waste prevention measures. Who knows? He may pay for himself in just one visit!
3. Set your priorities and goals.
- Prioritize waste prevention opportunities by considering cost, ease of implementation, payback, and other benefits, such as increased employee safety.
- Try focusing on a few opportunities that are easy to implement, have low capital investment, save you money, and reduce large volumes of waste.
- Set attainable goals, such as reducing office paper waste by 25 percent or reducing your waste hauling and disposal costs by $5,000 annually.
4. Get started.
- Teach your employees how to prevent waste. Describe your waste prevention policies and goals, and provide training to employees who must change how they handle materials.
- Promote your waste prevention activities. Hold a kickoff event to describe your goals and highlight the benefits for your business. Use posters or signs to get the word out to employees and place the signs in areas where waste prevention activities should happen.
- Encourage employee involvement by offering incentives.
- Prizes or awards can be given for the best ideas or those that result in the most savings. A portion of the savings can also be given to employees or their departments.
To determine whether your waste prevention efforts are successful, from both an environmental and economic standpoint, you need to evaluate your progress. Suggestions for evaluating your waste prevention efforts include:
- Monitor process and waste production changes. Track things such as the volume of waste produced, how often it is hauled away, and reductions in energy use and the amount of raw materials used.
- Calculate the savings. Look at savings in handling, treating, and disposal costs as well as savings from reduced raw material and energy use.
- Look at the indirect benefits. Try to gauge the value of less obvious benefits such as improved public image, reaching new markets, improving or expanding production processes, employee morale and safety, and other advantages.
- Reevaluate your efforts on a regular basis. As new raw materials and processes are introduced, waste streams change. Conduct regular assessments of your business to identify additional waste prevention opportunities. Remember, as long as you continue to generate waste, there are opportunities to reduce it.
Inexpensive Solutions for Reducing Waste
The Herald Review/Itasca Shopper in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, is a small newspaper and advertising printing operation. By encouraging all departments to efficiently use materials - and by recycling and reusing materials whenever possible - the company realized huge savings by reducing the volume of solid and hazardous waste, landfill disposal fees, and raw materials costs.
Newsprint rollends that were originally thrown away were saved and sold to a local ceramics company as packing material. Waste ink was reused by adding different colors to black inks with no reduction in print quality. The company reused film-developing chemicals and extended its use with additives. The layout department reused page pasteup sheets, and the composing staff reused and refilled toner cartridges three times before buying new cartridges. Overall, the company reduced solid waste by 97 percent and saved 250 pounds of ink per year.
- Reduced waste hauling and disposal costs saved $18,000 per year.
- Reused ink saved $2,600 per year.
- Reused film developer saved $240 per year.
- Reused pasteup sheets saved $570 per year.
- Reused toner cartridges saved $900 per year.
- Roll end sales paid for yearly newsprint costs.
- Cost to implement the waste reduction measures - NOTHING!
*Adapted from EPA's EnviroSense Small Business Waste Reduction Guide
Conserving Water Pays Off!
Tri-Star Technologies, Inc. specializes in products for the electronics industry, including the manufacture of printed wiring boards. Tri-Star installed flow controls on their rinse processes by increasing counterflow rinsing and implemented other "smart rinsing" techniques on their electroless copper line. By reusing rinse water from one set of counterflow rinse tanks to another, the company reduced their water use by 79 percent. Overall, Tri-Star estimates that "smart rinsing" reduced their water usage by 2.5 million gallons per year, resulting in cost savings of approximately $15,000. Although Tri-Star made these changes on lines specific to their manufacturing process, such water use reduction measures may be applied to other processes that use multiple rinse lines.
*Adapted from EPA's Safer Choice Program
Additional Success Stories
- The Guardian Industries' plant in Ligonier, Indiana, has eliminated more than 2 tons of textiles from their waste stream by laundering and reusing gloves, saving the company approximately $30,000. The company also switched from paper towels to reusable wiping clothes, saving $7,200 in purchasing costs. *Adapted from the EPA's WasteWise program
- By using remanufactured toner cartridges in printers and switching to a toner system for the fax machine, Applied Specialties, Inc. in Ohio saved $600 and eliminated 260 pounds of waste. E-mail and double-sided copies also saved the company $320 and decreased paper waste by 500 pounds.*Adapted from the EPA's WasteWise program
- Prestige Cleaners of Scottsdale, Arizona, has implemented waste prevention on both sides of the front counter. By switching to a less harmful petroleum solvent and wet cleaning 15 percent of the garments brought into the stores, it has eliminated perchloroethylene from the cleaning process. They also use a water evaporation and filtration system that saves $1,800 per year in hazardous waste disposal costs. To encourage their customers to reduce waste, the company provides reusable garment bags and offer an economic incentive for them to return hangers. The hanger reuse program saves the company an estimated $18,000 per year.* Adapted from a National Waste Prevention Coalition Case Study
Employee involvement is key!
Frost Paint and Oil in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is a manufacturer of industrial paints and linseed oil-based varnishes. Several years ago, the company reviewed its waste streams, including paint sludge, varnish oil sludge, and process water and established a goal of reducing them by 10 to 15 percent. After evaluating a number of options for reducing waste, the company decided that the quickest and least expensive way to prevent waste was to implement an employee incentive program. The employees, 35 at the time, were motivated by the promise that two-thirds of any resulting savings would be passed on to them. As a result of the employee incentive program, Frost Paint and Oil reached its waste reduction goal in 1 year! The innovative approach reduced hazardous waste by 55 percent and saved the company $25,000. The following year, the incentive program continued to work, further reducing hazardous waste generation by 22 percent.
*Adapted from EPA's EnviroSense website.
Blast Away Paint Without Chemicals
The Gehl Company in West Bend, Wisconsin, modified its paint stripping process and now saves $32,000 a year in waste disposal costs. The company replaced chemical paint strippers with a blasting cabinet that uses small plastic particles to strip paint off parts. This process change also provided employees with a safer and healthier work environment.