An emerging trend in the waste space is companies pursuing zero waste certifications, similar to achieve B-Corp status or LEED status.
But first, what is Zero Waste?
Based on the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA), it is 90% diversion from landfill or incineration. Which means that a building or a home sends 90% less (based on weight) to landfill from their baseline year.
And how do we calculate this 90% diversion rate?
Total weight of all materials that are diverted from landfill and incineration (via recycling, composting, reusing, donating, etc.) / Total weight of all material that is discarded (which includes the numerator)
Why get a Zero Waste Certification?
To burnish their waste sustainability credentials, firms are now pursuing zero waste certifications to verify that their facilities are indeed reducing what they send to landfill and that there is overall less waste being created.
There are a few different types of zero waste certifications currently in the market. There are some differences across them. Some include waste to energy in their calculations and others do not – meaning that sending items to incineration leads to a zero waste “from landfill”. Others are focused on diversion only (i.e. doing recycling and composting) while others also encourage reuse, reduction and upstream redesign (which is a bigger impact on the environmental footprint). The zero waste field is growing and evolving so these definitions will continue to be updated as standards become more established.
The two most prevalent certifications are (though there are many others):
· TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency) by GBCI
· UL 2799 Zero Waste to Landfill
TRUE is Administered by Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), the TRUE Zero Waste certification system is a complement to LEED and other green rating systems.
TRUE certification requires 90% diversion from landfill and incineration. Waste to Energy as a strategy is only allowed for the remaining 10%. TRUE is comprehensive in that it focuses on upstream and downstream waste and encourages companies to work with suppliers and vendors to minimize waste from being created in the first place. TRUE encourages reuse, reduction, redesign and upstream management.
Companies with TRUE certification include Microsoft, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Tesla, Best Buy. As of September 2021, there are 345 registered and certified TRUE projects, totaling over 131 million square feet of space across 27 countries
The key criteria for achieving TRUE certification is getting to 90% diversion. A certified TRUE advisor can support an organization in achieving its certification. Companies would engage an advisor (or start the process themselves) using the materials provided on TRUE’s website. The fee’s associated with the certification are dependent on the size of the facility. Once certified, a site has to recertify every 3 years.
Underwriters Laboratory (UL) is a global organization that provides validation of environmental claims. Their zero-waste certification is UL 2799 and focuses on at least 90% diversion from landfill and incineration. Like TRUE it also supports reduction, redesign, and reuse.
Companies that have pursued UL include Google, LG, Samsung among many others. UL is globally recognized for its safety certifications and is prevalent in the manufacturing industries.
Companies would contact UL directly to start the process (and get a quote). Companies have to recertify annually. The UL team collects data for the 12 months prior from the organization to determine what level of diversion was achieved by the site.
Other certifications to consider include
Carbon Trust – this organization is based in the UK and offers a Carbon Trust Standard for Zero Waste to Landfill. This standard is focused on diversion from landfill so companies can use incineration as a strategy. The certification is valid for two years.
SCS Global – this organization will certify a facility for its zero waste claims. Unlike the above organizations, the SCS Global certification starts at 50% diversion and allows up to 25% incineration as a strategy. The certification is good for a year and SCS does sampling of facilities to lower the cost of certification. This certification was launched in 2021 but SCS is well established globally as a third party verification firm.
NSF Sustainability – this organization is part of NSF International and provides organizations with a landfill – free certification Organizations have to demonstrate that 99% of waste generated is diverted by landfill (but can be incinerated).
Green Circle – this organization provides certification of 100% diversion from landfill. The company states they do a comprehensive audit of facilities to ensure diversion. Green Circle provides a variety of certifications and verification services. Manufacturing companies such as Perdue Farms, Brewer Science and Alcon have the Green Circle Zero Waste the Landfill certification. The certification is good for a year.
Post Landfill Action Plan – PLAN is an organization focused on zero waste at college campuses. They have launched a certification called ATLAS focused on college campuses. The certification is based on a scoring methodology developed by the PLAN. As part of the certification, PLAN engages campus wide stakeholders to ensure buy in and broad support for the action plan to get to zero waste.
If your firm is looking to pursue a zero waste certification please get in touch to learn more about what it will take to achieve the certification. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org