Save Money and the Planet – Get Zero Waste Certified!

Caroline Griffith, EcoNews Journalist 

The COVID 19 pandemic has disrupted many aspects of our lives, but those of us who are concerned with the growing environmental damage caused by plastic waste have learned to adapt to the requirements of COVID19 safety and not abandon our Zero Waste ideals. According to Bloomberg Business, the global plastic packaging market size is projected  to grow from $909.2 billion in 2019 to $1012.6 billion by 2021, mainly due to pandemic response. Part of the problem is that, when the pandemic hit, industry groups like the Plastics Industry Association and California Restaurant Association recommended that switching to single-use plastics was safer for food-service businesses, an assertion that has been scientifically refuted since then. For local businesses, from food service to construction to education, who are concerned about reducing the waste they generate and preparing to comply with new California laws, Zero Waste Humboldt (ZWH) kicked off 2021 with two hour and a half webinars about how to implement Zero Waste methods. 

The next step will be a webinar just for businesses ready to begin the Zero Waste certification process this Spring. A few of the Zero Waste certification programs available are very stringent, cost thousands of dollars, and are designed for large companies, while others just involve paying a fee. ZWH has been developing a certification program tailored to small businesses in the Redwood Coast’s rural region. According to Larry  Kass, a webinar presenter and ZW consultant for businesses for 17 years, the key is to “direct that waste so that it isn’t  waste, but a resource for someone else within the circular  economy.” Though recycling has been over-emphasized, proactive waste prevention and materials reuse are the top priorities in the Zero Waste hierarchy. In food service, waste prevention can mean storing and preparing food more efficiently, and getting edible food to community food security programs. In the construction industry, it can mean salvaging materials  for reuse or donating items that can be repurposed,  such as drywall that (with the necessary equipment) can be pulverized to be used as a soil additive. Either way, such moves not only help the environment, but can reduce disposal costs. 

The first step for any business (or individual) working towards Zero Waste is to begin measuring the waste you generate. There are a variety of online calculators for volume-to-weight conversions to consistently measure and record all discarded materials. Monitoring the materials disposed, reused, recycled, composted and even prevented over a period of time can help businesses to determine their baseline and track the impact of their practices. This monitoring is one of the hallmarks of the Zero Waste method and provides the information to help cut waste upstream in purchasing supplies and packaging.

Local business, Los Bagels started implementing Zero Waste practices in 2016, and has since become a model. According to Eddie Blakeslee, Co-owner and Operations Manager, it would have been overwhelming if they set out working on all waste. So they started by incrementally integrating the steps to reduce waste for each material type. First they switched to reusable dishes for in-house orders and fully compostable to-go containers.   Then they started pulling things out of the trash to track what  was being thrown away and figure out how to eliminate or reduce it. They began working with the Local Worm Guy to compost food waste and embarked on a bagel-whiskey collaboration with Alchemy Distillery, eventually going  from having a 3-yard dumpster picked up every week to  a 1-yard dumpster every week. “It started as the right  thing to do,” he said. “then it became a fun project.” 

As ZWH President Maggie Gainer says, “At it’s very best, our local economy is an ecosystem— ‘the Circular Economy.’ Some of the best waste reduction has come from businesses helping each other.” For those who are interested in learning more about Zero Waste practices and being a part of  the circular economy, ZWH is planning an in-depth  workshop on its Zero Waste Business Certification. Stay  tuned at zerowastehumboldt.org for details.