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Trends in Waste Reporting

Insights from a scan of 50 Firms in the media/travel/ consumer products, telecom and retail industries. 


By Ushma Pandya, Co-Founder and Partner, Think Zero LLC

A lake in the shape of human footprints in the middle of a lush forest as a metaphor for the impact of human activity; Getty Images/iStockphoto

Think Zero did a scan of over 50 companies in the media, travel, consumer products, telecom, retail industries to understand how firms are setting and reporting on their waste reduction goals and progress.  The following are some of the insights gleaned from that scan.

1) Waste reporting / Material management discussion is a standard practice among the larger firms.  There is no standard on WHAT is reported but 49 out of the 50 firms all provided some data on their waste reduction strategies.  Some firms focused on operational waste of their site and others focused on the end-of-life options for the products they sell.

Representative examples include:

  • Showing year over year diversion rates

  • Providing a waste intensity metrics (e.g., waste per consumer)

  • Detailing the recycled content of sold product

  • Providing detail on investments in new technologies / recycling infrastructure

  • Highlighting Zero Waste certifications

2) Some, but not all, companies report their overall waste volumes, usually based on hauler data. Where companies report their overall waste, it is often broken down by material type (e.g., trash, recyclables, etc.).  Waste data quality and availability is variable, so the reported data includes multiple vendors and some estimations. 


Some examples:

  • Best Buy breaks down recyclable weight into 10 categories

  • Target reported reuse weight (i.e. weight of reuse of hangers, donations, salvage)

  • Walmart provides diversion rate by country/ region on a YoY basis.

  • Nike provides data by site categories (e.g., HQ, Manufacturing, Distribution Centers)

 This data is used to calculate a diversion rate, sometimes for specific sites or for the overall firm.  The diversion rate is calculated in the following way:  waste diverted via recycling, composting, anaerobic diversion, donations, reuse, etc. divided by total waste (i.e. waste that is diverted plus what is landfilled or incinerated).   


3)      Companies focus on their key waste streams to tell their waste reduction story, but do not focus on all their waste. A food company focuses on food waste, an electronics firm focuses on e waste, coffee companies focus on cups, e-commerce companies focus on packaging, etc.  The focus is different for each firm and dictated by the volumes as well as its relevance to its business / operations. 


For companies that do not have a physical product, the focus is on their operations.  Where a firm has physical products, the focus is on how it is supporting waste minimization and diversion.


The strategies that the firms highlight include:

  • Waste minimization – better / more efficient production of products and food.

  • Diversion– composting, donating, recycling, reusing.

  • Take back programs – helping consumers recycle by taking back product and ensuring recycling / re-use and repurposing.

  • Material innovation – recyclable packaging, less material in packaging

Some examples:

  • Google discusses how it uses refurbished components for its hardware and how it sells older products into the secondary market; it also details how it is using recycled material and easy to recycle material for its products.

  • Verizon talks about the number of phones they have taken back from customers for reuse, resale and recycling.

  • H&M details the amount of recycled material they use in their product

  • Nordstrom highlights their beauty product and clothing take back programs

  • Yum brands focuses on back of house food waste

  • Hilton discusses its elimination of single use plastic

  • Kellogg's highlights its work on food waste as well as on recyclable/compostable packaging

  • Darden highlights its recycling of cooking oil and food donations

  • Amazon is focused on the reduction of packaging

  • Hyatt talks about its refillable water bottle program

  • Apple talks about how nothing goes to waste in its assembly sites

  • Meta talks about its construction waste recycling rate


4)      Circularity as a goal is highlighted by a few firms and may grow over time.  Companies primarily talk about recycling rather than creating a closed loop where they are reusing materials or fostering reuse.  However, there are a handful of companies highlighting reuse strategies.  Another strategy seen is investing in technologies to support the circular economy (see next insight).


Some examples:

  • Ikea explicitly talks about circularity and highlights how they used secondhand denim in their sofa covers. 

  • Lululemon talks about circularity in relation to its take back program.

  • Microsoft talks about Circular Centers for the reusing of servers.

  • Google discusses how it uses refurbished components for its hardware and how it sells older product into the secondary market.

  • Target highlighted its reusing of plastic hangers in stores.


5)      Larger firms highlight the investments they make in recycling infrastructure and innovation

Closed Loop Partners and Ellen Macarthur Foundation are popular partners for many of the firms we reviewed, usually through an investment or a collaboration. 


6)      Waste certifications are not prevalent – less than 10 firms highlighted zero waste certifications (UL or TRUE certification are most common).


  • Best Buy, Google, Apple and Microsoft all had Zero Waste Certifications

  • Best Buy looking to get TRUE at all of their supply chain sites (have 1 so far)

  • Google received UL 2799 at their final assembly manufacturing sites

  • Apple received UL 2799 for its assembly supplier sites

  • Microsoft is pursuing TRUE for their HQ and UL for their data centers

7)      Almost all firms have shared a goal related to waste reduction but less than half of the firms share their progress to goal in a clear and easy to understand format.   


Some examples of firms sharing their progress:

Nordstrom has a track to show progress to goal (with the metric amount and year clearly defined)

  • AT&T has a narrative describing their Progress to Goal as well as any learnings.

  • Cisco shows if they are on track or achieved or have not started.

  • LuluLemon shows the baseline value, the goal and progress.

  • Marriot indicates if they are ahead, on track or behind schedule to meet their goals.


8)      Several firms highlighted their employee engagement activities related to waste.  This was less prevalent but interesting as behavior change is a big part of waste reduction. 


Some examples:

  • Best Buy and Cisco mention their Green Teams and their focus on education and sharing best practices.

  • Microsoft discussed their internal Eco Challenges to support their employees on their personal sustainability journeys.

  • Amazon has Sustainability Ambassadors and holds a Summit to share information, and to brainstorm and collaborate on new challenges. 

9)      A slightly different perspective … companies also talk about how their products help consumers waste less.

For example:

  • Amazon highlights its secondhand shopping site as well as its how to repair guides.

  • Best Buy highlighted WaterSense Sinks that track and reduce water usage.

  • Several firms identify their Energy Star certified products that reduce energy and water use.

  • Ikea removed disposable batteries to eliminate waste.


From the scan, we learn that companies use a variety of strategies to tell their waste story and there is no one standard.  Waste looks different for each firm and that dictates the strategies the firms use for waste reduction and diversion as well as for how they frame the work they are doing.  What we did not see was a connection between the waste diversion and reduction practices of the firm and their net carbon goals.  Consumption and landfilling play a big role in GhG emissions and over time companies may explicitly talk about how their waste reduction and diversion strategies support their carbon reduction goals. 

Please note that this scan reviewed 2021 reports

Drop us a note if you have seen other emerging trends in waste reporting. If you want to learn more about Think Zero's work and how we can support your firm's goals drop us a note at

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