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Blog March 2020 Updated May 2021

Zero Waste through Material Management

Setting a goal of Zero Waste must start somewhere. The City of Fort Collins started at 50% and made a compelling business case on taking it further by estimating $6.5M worth of valuable resources thrown away every year in Fort Collins alone (Zero Waste Associates, 2013). As the City of Fort Collins, the first step is identifying a goal and then establish a plan on how to reach that goal.

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Evan Schwartz Chief Enterprise Architect, AMCS Global

Setting a Goal of Zero Waste Must Start Somewhere

The City of Fort Collins started at 50% and made a compelling business case on taking it further by estimating $6.5M worth of valuable resources thrown away every year in Fort Collins alone (Zero Waste Associates, 2013).  As the City of Fort Collins, the first step is identifying a goal and then establish a plan on how to reach that goal.

Too often, the goal is set by how zero waste is defined.  The U.S. Conference of Mayors has established a set of definitions that focus on “design and envision the use and management of materials in ways that preserve value, minimize environmental impacts, and conserve natural resources (epa.gov, 2019).”  This definition focuses heavily on the material.  Additionally, it includes responsibility and fiscal incentives to modify behavior for recycling (eap.gof, 2019).  These are solid definitions and target the right things.  But we often overlook key components to zero waste: process and handling.

One of the costliest aspects of recycling is freight and hauling.  I typically call the management of commodities, such as waste and recyclables, “People, Places, and Things.”  You’re buying or selling things to and from people and moving this material from place to place.  There is a high impact on the environment for the transportation of the material as well as cost.  However, until all our freight vehicles run on clean energy, it’s a fact of doing business.

Maximize Value in Recycling

A good way to maximize value in recycling is to increase the quality of material delivered.  Each load of old corrugated cardboard can contain contaminants, non-conformances, outthrows, and moisture.  These undesirables increase the costs of the commodity you want, impact zero waste figures by creating waste, and require high-cost labor to filter out of the supply chain.  This filtered material most often ends up in a landfill.  Most recycling facilities have some grading practices to ensure the quality of the material.  However, most practices stop at grading the material and expect deductions or negative incentives to modify the supplier’s behavior.  Unfortunately, this is rarely the result.

What is needed is a system that modifies supplier behavior.  Most suppliers do not intentionally deliver poor quality material.  In many cases, they have come to accept the deductions and down-grades as a cost of doing business.  There is nothing in the current process to modify behavior for the supplier to take responsibility for the delivered material.  A system that can properly document split loads, down-grades, contaminants, outthrows, non-conformances, moisture, and other mitigating factors that make the load undesirable allows for you to have a productive discussion with the supplier to facilitate high-quality deliveries.  Building trust with your supplier through accurate and detailed reporting will allow for shorter grading processes with trusted suppliers, higher quality materials, fewer undesirable artifacts in the material stream, and a greater value to cost ratio.

Help Suppliers Improve Quality

Leveraging technology to collect the details of the grading process, then presenting them in a digestible format to suppliers will help your suppliers improve the quality of their product.  The benefit to the supplier is a shorter turnaround time for delivery, fewer downgrades and deductions, and greater customer retention.  Having a tool that permits a detailed review of delivered loads with the supplier allows for corrective actions and minimizes waste in the value stream.

By simply improving dialogue with suppliers to minimize undesirable waste in the deliveries can significantly contribute to any plan toward zero waste.  Step one is setting the goal; step two is having a plan.  When planning for zero waste, don’t overlook the process as a significant contributor to meeting your zero waste goals.

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