There has never been more urgency around the issue of minimizing waste. In this article, we’ll give you practical, actionable ideas to help you reduce plastic use and reduce your carbon footprint in six different settings, including schools, factories and shared buildings.

We’ve assigned each tip a difficulty rating between one and ten, with one the easiest and ten the most difficult.

We’re destroying the global ecosystem through our wasteful living and damaging the wellbeing of all life on earth. Isn’t it time we all took responsibility for the way our habits affect our environment?

So dive in and learn how you can help to change the planet by reducing waste.

How Much Waste Do We Generate?

Americans generated about 25.9 metric tons of trash per capita, and Canadians added another 36.1 metric tons per capita in 2019. Yes, the average Canadian does, apparently, generate more trash than the average American! This is according to figures from Statista, which grow annually. Why does this really matter? After all, waste disposal provides jobs for hundreds of thousands of people in the country. It’s dealt with safely and efficiently, and it’s kept out of sight.

But, that may well be part of the problem. Is it a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind?’ Where does the waste we create end up, and what are the consequences for us and our entire planet?

Waste and Global Climate Change: The Facts

Recent news has brought the scale of the problem home to many people. Scientists now say that many aspects of global warming may now be irreversible, with temperatures set to rise by 1.5 degrees celsius by 2040.

Although that may not seem like much of an increase, the results are predicted to be catastrophic to our climate. Even slight ocean and atmospheric temperature changes have huge effects on weather patterns. Some parts of the planet will see longer and worse droughts, others will experience more intense flooding. The changes aren’t something that’s predicted to happen at some time in the future, they’re happening now and they’re just going to get worse unless we act quickly to slow them down.

But what does waste have to do with climate change? The truth is, it’s a massive cause of the environmental problems the world is experiencing in modern times.

Harmful chemicals from landfill waste leach into the soil and water supplies, while the emissions from burning waste are arguably even more damaging.

Burning waste emits toxic gases, including carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide amongst others. These chemicals cause intense air pollution and damage to the ozone layer, which protects us from the sun’s harmful UV rays and maintains the stability of our atmosphere.

We’re all Doing it

Developed territories may not have the best records when it comes to the amount of waste per capita, but there are countries doing even more damage.

As middle-income nations grow increasingly wealthy, their waste creation numbers are rising at shocking rates. Plastic pollution is choking the oceans and burying the world’s poorest populations in a sea of unwanted cast-off products.

And the problem is growing. According to the World Bank, “without urgent action, global waste will increase by 70 percent on current levels by 2050.”

It’s Time to Act

Reducing waste is even more critical to environmental preservation than recycling. After all, if an item isn’t thrown away in the first place, there is no need to recycle it. However, disposable products are convenient, cheap, and abundant so we all use way too many of them.

The negative effects on the environment caused by the way we all live and work are now no longer just a theory. Watch the news and you’ll see wildfires sweeping across whole states, entire towns lost to floods and seas dying, teeming with the things we throw away. If not in our lifetimes, it will be our children and our children’s children who suffer the consequences of our ‘throw-away’ society.

What to Do

What difference can you make? Taking up the Zero Waste Challenge is a good start. Not only will it help you reduce your waste and increase your recycling – it’s also a massive eye-opener when it comes to showing you just how much you’ve been throwing away.

What is the Zero Waste Challenge?

The basis of the Zero Waste Challenge is to eliminate all kinds of trash. It doesn’t just apply to plastic waste – although this is possibly one of the biggest problems affecting our environment today – but also any other products you use. This includes food waste, cosmetics, household appliances, books, clothes, and everything else that traditionally has a transient place in your life.

But how can you meet this challenge when you aren’t sure what to do with all the products you open or use every day after you’re done with them?

Read on to find out how you can take on the Zero Waste Challenge.

Reducing Waste in High Rise Residential Buildings

Apartment buildings and mixed-use developments often see tremendous waste generation due to the limited space available for storage. Families and single tenants conserve their cabinet and storage space for the most important items, relying on disposables to fill the gaps. It’s all too easy to just put out the trash. It gets it out of the way, keeps things tidy, and makes room for more products. But, with a little bit of thought and minimal time, you can cut down the waste produced in high-rise residential buildings. Let’s have a look at some ways you can help.

1 – Recycle Your E-Waste

According to S2S Group, “Throughout a single year, the world produced 53.6 million tons of E-waste.”

The problem is that no one wants it, which has led to 85% of the world’s broken-down electronics getting dumped in Ghana, parts of Asia, and other West African nations. This further erodes the environmental and economic stability of these regions.

In fact, e-waste is the fastest-growing type of trash and it’s causing huge problems. Much of it is burned or dumped in landfill sites causing pollution and health hazards to humans and wildlife.

Part of the problem that’s causing e-waste levels to increase so dramatically is the world’s growing population. Couple that with increasing economic prosperity and you have a bigger marketplace of ready customers with an increasing desire for handy gadgets.

Technology also moves incredibly fast. This means that products are soon out of date and perceived as no longer ‘up to the job’. Sadly, this means that they are often discarded and replaced. Ask yourself, do you really need the most powerful laptop if you use it for little more than writing emails and checking social media?

As well as consumers demanding ever more up-to-date technologies, manufacturers are producing products with shorter lifespans because the next-gen of technology will come soon to replace them.

Electronics that we buy today are no longer ‘made to last’. They’re made to satisfy the consumer for a short period of time and then be replaced.

Much of the e-waste created in the western world is exported. In some places, this waste is dumped above ground in huge amounts. The local population frequently makes a living by scavenging through the components and units, hunting for valuable materials that can be sold on. This may well be their only income.

These ‘precious finds’ are all too often manually dismantled, often by children. The correct protective equipment for these workers is rarely available. Parts are burned in the open air or sometimes dissolved in acid. The negative impact on health can be catastrophic. Our e-waste is known to contain hundreds of toxic substances. There are documented risks to the entire nervous system, the lungs, kidneys, and links to various types of cancers.

Of course, these very same harmful chemicals are easily able to enter the ground and affect both water and food supplies.

The good news is that this one’s an easy fix for electronics owners and takes little effort. Most Staples and Best Buy locations will gladly recycle your e-waste for you, or you can trade your old smartphone for cash at mall kiosks like ecoATM.

If your old laptop still works, consider asking a charity if they have any use for it. Just because you may not have the tech-savvy or the desire to fix it doesn’t mean that someone else can’t make good use of it. There are also parts in your laptop that can be used to fix other devices. This may well prevent them from being thrown out.

Difficulty Rating: 2

Impact: The animals, soil, and future generations will thank you big-time for this one. Electronic waste leaches dangerous chemicals into the soil that pollute water, destroy arable land, and kill wildlife.

People who may be harmed by exposure to the toxic chemicals in the e-waste you create may be spared from debilitating diseases.

Recycling notebooks, laptops, and other such gadgets gives people an opportunity to use them even if they may not be able to purchase a brand new product.

2 – Compost Food Scraps

We throw away far too much food. The amount of food you buy to simply put in the trash would very probably horrify you! This one can be dealt with easily. Simply get yourself a composting bin and start recycling your food scraps to use as compost.

If you’re part of a living community, why not ask your building’s waste management company if they will provide a food scrap bin for you to share? Some waste management consultants will implement an entire food scrap recycling program in a building that holds several units.

To start your composting project off, try having a contest, kick-off party, or other fun activity to introduce the idea to your neighbours and get them excited about it. If space and laws permit, you could even pick up compost from the same company for your community garden. Food waste makes excellent compost and you can use it to grow more fresh foods yourself (just make sure they don’t end up going to waste too!)

Difficulty Rating: 5

Impact: Every year, 30-40% of the food produced in the United States is wasted. In Canada, the figure is even higher at nearly 60%. On average, that’s around 50% of the food produced for each person. Turning this food into compost and using it to grow more food would have a major environmental impact.

Growing fresh food commercially is energy-hungry. Vegetables must be watered, housed, and heated. Food must be harvested and transported to shops where it’s further heated or refrigerated.

Using your food scraps to make compost means that you – or your community – can start to grow your own vegetables. This has a hugely beneficial effect on the environment. Not only are you reducing food waste, but you’re also saving the energy used when food is commercially grown and sold. Don’t forget that there are also big savings to be made for those willing to devote a little time to this kind of project – so it’s kind to the planet and kind to your pocket too!

3 – Get your Building Involved in a Grocery Audit

Are you regularly buying more food items than you need? Do you find yourself putting items in the trash every week that are no longer fit to eat? Try taking a good look at what you’re buying each week and work out if you really need everything on that list. Encourage others in your building to do the same. You can even set up a grocery auditing committee that can help people with this task.

Planning ahead for meals helps eliminate waste. If you decide before you go to the grocery shop exactly what you need to prepare the food you’ve planned, you’re less likely to buy more.

Shop local wherever you can and remember to take your own reusable bags and boxes! Your building may also set up a packaging recycling project where used bags and boxes are available for everyone to use. (Please note that this suggestion may not be appropriate depending on the levels of Covid19 in your community).

Difficulty Rating: 5

Impact: Reducing food waste means less food needs to be grown and transported to shops. It’s also a great way to save money.

Using your own packaging materials and making sure you use them again means less packaging needs to be manufactured.

4 – Swap or Donate Used Clothes, Books, and Kitchen Supplies

Instead of throwing out your old clothes, books, and household items, it’s time to think about how they can be reused, repurposed, or gifted.

Try hosting a bring-and-buy sale with your neighbours. Your old copy of Romeo & Juliet from 10th grade English might be just what the neighbour’s kid needs for school. You can also set up a book exchange – simply a box in your building where you can put unwanted books and pick up new ones to read.

The clothes that you no longer like, or those that no longer fit you, may be just what someone else is looking for. Clothing swap programs for residential buildings are a great idea, both for reducing waste and for improving community spirit. If your building doesn’t have a clothing swap program, and setting one up isn’t realistic, you can always drop these items off at the local thrift store or Salvation Army location. Somebody is sure to appreciate them. The same solution can be used for kitchen supplies.

(Please note that this suggestion may not be appropriate depending on the levels of Covid19 in your community).

Difficulty Rating: 4

Impact: Textile waste accounts for 7.6% of the solid waste in municipal landfills. A donation-first lifestyle can make a big dent in that number. The polyester component in many clothing items is also damaging to the environment. Reusing these items means that less polyester ends up in our ecosystem and fewer clothes need to be manufactured.

5 – Host a Repair Clinic

Don’t throw out your broken appliances, furniture, toys, or damaged clothes just yet; there may be some life left in them. If you don’t know how to fix these items, consider setting up a repair clinic for your building or local community. Ask around to see if anyone in the building has the necessary practical skills. You may find that you are quite good at sewing, your neighbour has carpentry skills and someone else is a whizz with electronics.

Difficulty Rating: 9

Impact: This idea takes a lot of time and commitment, but since many household appliances at the landfill rust and expel harmful gases, it’s well worth a try.

This also enables you to reuse many other things that would be simply thrown away.
Good for the environment and good for your pocket too!

It also gives people the opportunity to learn new life skills that will benefit them far into the future.

6 – Reduce Moving Day Waste

With so many people moving in and out of the average high-rise residential building, bulky items often get hauled to the dumpsters and abandoned there. Thrift stores and charities are usually happy to get their hands on these desks, sofas, lamps, and other large items.

To keep them out of the landfill, try setting up a group to take these unwanted items off the hands of the tenants and deliver them to new homes. You’ll find that some charities will also pick bulky items up if they have a use for them. Remember, your trash is another man’s treasure in many cases.

Difficulty Rating: 3

Impact: Bulky items take up a great deal of space in landfills. They often contain fillers like metal and polyester that never decompose and cause damage to animals, plants, and ecosystems. Reusing these pieces lightens the load on disposal facilities and reduces environmental damage.

Reducing Waste in Offices

The average office worker generates 10,000 sheets of wasted paper each year. In fact, 30% of print jobs never even get picked up from the printer. That’s a daunting figure.

Every day, Americans throw away 60 million plastic bottles, many of them empty water bottles and soda containers tossed in workplace trash cans. The figures from Canada are no less shocking. Canadians are consuming two billion water bottles each year – that’s a staggering 5.3 million a day.

In a typical office, each employee will throw out 500 coffee cups per year. Paper, plastic, and Styrofoam are all recyclable. In fact, an estimated 70% of the content of business landfills could be recycled, but only about 20% of it actually is.

While many of us are quite good at looking at ways to reduce waste in our homes, it often seems that waste in the workplace is the employer’s problem, not ours. But that’s not the case. We are all personally responsible for what we consume and what we throw in the trash. Whether we’re at work, at home, in the mall, or on vacation – our trash is ours alone and it’s up to us to deal with it in a way that doesn’t cause harm to our fragile planet.

As an employer, running a business is hard work and there never seems to be enough time to get everything done. It’s way too easy to put recycling and dealing with waste at the bottom of the priority list. But, whether you’re an employee or an employer, it’s time to act.

Here are some ideas to make sure your work life is creating as little waste as possible.

1 – Reduce Paper Waste

Encourage employees and colleagues to edit and double-check their work on the computer before printing. When you absolutely have to print drafts, you can print them on the unused backs of recycled print jobs.

Keep ‘scrap’ paper to use for notes and roughs. All too often, we print something out, decide to change it, and toss the original draft in the garbage.

Avoid cover sheets for faxes, instead, make use of email and digital files. Post printed memos and information posters rather than making copies for everyone. Don’t print out newsletters, keep them digital.

Do what you can to eliminate junk mail coming in and going out of your office. If you receive junk mail, take a few minutes to contact the sender and explain that their mailings don’t fall into line with your zero waste company policy. Politely request that they no longer send them to you. Of course, they can still send you emails but then the choice of whether to print them out – or even read them – is down to you.

Why not contact your customer base and explain that you are taking steps to reduce the waste generated by your office? You can explain that all future communications will be made by email. It’s now possible for documents to be electronically signed so there really are very few that have to be printed out and sent. You’ll find that many of your customers will be really interested and on board with the steps you’re taking. It’s a great icebreaker for a conversation too so you might just find more business landing in your (electronic) inbox.

The possibilities are nearly endless for reducing paper waste from an office-based business. Why not ask employees for their ideas? It’s not only a good way to reduce the negative impact your work has on the planet, it’s good for team building too.

Difficulty Rating: 4

Impact: According to the World Rainforest Alliance, 40% of the world’s trees are harvested to make paper, and the paper production process is horribly destructive to the atmosphere. Reducing paper use to reduce this destruction should be a key part of any environmental strategy.

2 – Buy in Bulk

By buying in bulk, you reduce packaging waste along with your costs. A regular trip to Costco, Sam’s Club, or any other big box store is worthwhile when it comes to improving the environment and saving your company money. If shopping online suits you better, you’ll still save a bundle by purchasing office supplies in wholesale-size quantities.

On top of the savings, you’ll make and the reduction in packaging waste, buying in bulk also eliminates the negative impact of carbon emissions from multiple deliveries or pick-ups in your own vehicle.

Difficulty Rating: 3

Impact: Buying in bulk is easy, cuts down on packaging waste, limits transportation impact, and reduces disposal problems.

3 – Invest in Reusable Silverware, Plates, and Cups

Why should your employees have to use plastic forks, paper napkins, and Styrofoam plates? Let’s face it, it certainly doesn’t add to the whole ‘dining’ experience. Much of these ‘disposable’ items are one-use and made from materials that can take thousands of years to degrade. Does that really seem like a sensible way of living to you?

Instead, stock your kitchen cabinets with affordable, reusable plates, silverware, cutlery, glasses, and cups. Appoint a regular dishwasher or come up with a rotating schedule so everything gets cleaned. No one enjoys eating or drinking out of plastic – using ‘proper’ plates, cups, and cutlery provides a far more enjoyable experience. You’ll be amazed at how much your trash output is reduced.

Difficulty Rating: 3

Impact: This change is easy to implement and can have a huge positive impact on both the amount of your trash and your employees’ sense of wellbeing. Happy workers are more productive workers so your company bank balance may well reap the benefit too.

4 – Send Unused Meeting Food to a Shelter or Composter or Give it to Employees

Most companies order way too much food and beverages for meetings and events. Instead of dumping the leftover food into the trash, consider sending it to a Salvation Army site or any shelter for local residents in need of housing and resources.

If your neighbourhood agencies don’t accept fresh food donations, you can give your leftovers to a composting company that will pick them up and turn them into nutrient-rich soil. Some of the people you work with, or those who work in the same building, may well have their own composting projects and will happily make use of your leftovers.

Another option is to let employees take some of this food home before it spoils – good for reducing waste, good for the planet, and great for boosting morale!

Reducing food waste involves changing your mindset. Just because food is no longer of use to you doesn’t mean that it isn’t useful for someone else. Someone you work with could be struggling to make ends meet. Allowing them to take uneaten meeting food home could make all the difference – but do remember that not many of us like to admit we’re struggling. Rather than ask publicly who would like to take food home – perhaps just leave it in the meeting room and allow people to help themselves in their own time.

Difficulty Rating: 2

Impact: After bovine methane emissions, food waste constitutes the most significant factor in global warming. Your efforts here can make a significant positive impact on the environment, your employees, and your local community.

5 – Promote Litter-Free Lunches & Coffee Breaks

Take a look at how your employees bring their lunch and other refreshments to the workplace. If they regularly bring their lunches in Styrofoam containers, plastic bags, and plastic bottles, they are needlessly adding to landfills. Offer new employees a litter-free lunch kit (elementary schools do this all the time) made out of metal, cardboard, or another biodegradable material – hemp lunch boxes are the new ‘big thing’. Consider giving employees their own metal or porcelain coffee mugs to reduce Styrofoam, paper, and plastic waste.

Difficulty Rating: 2

Impact: It depends on how much waste the team currently creates. Try showing employees the difference this strategy can make by measuring one month of office waste with disposable products, and one month under the new litter-free system.

Activities like giving employees their own cup can be great for office morale. Get imaginative – each cup could be printed with a comedy slogan applicable to their role or personality (but do be careful not to offend anyone!)

Reducing Waste in Schools

The average secondary school produces 48.5 pounds of waste per pupil each academic year, according to data published by Recycle Now. Primary schools churn out more than 99 pounds of garbage per pupil per year.

Our kids have grown up hearing about how waste is damaging the environment and how recycling can help. They’re really receptive to taking action that makes a difference and they come up with some great ideas of their own. They’re also very good at educating and influencing their own parents, who may not have as much time to think about ways to reduce waste and how to recycle.

1 – Conduct a Waste Audit and Get Kids Involved

Find out what you, your staff, and your students are throwing away every day. The USDA, the EPA, and the University of Arkansas created a helpful publication called the Guide to Conducting Student Food Waste Audits: A Resource for Schools that might prove helpful with this process.

For middle schools or secondary schools, this project could be a great learning opportunity for a science class or after-school environmental club to take on. There are also elements of mathematics, English, debating, and other subjects that play a part – the educational possibilities are almost endless!

Get the kids involved. The planet is theirs to inherit and the health of the environment is going to affect them and their own children. You’ll find many of them are extremely passionate about the topic.

Difficulty Rating: 6

Impact: Conducting a waste audit is never simple or easy, but it’s the best way to find out what your students are throwing away and how to minimize food waste. What students learn may well stay with them for a lifetime and positively impact their behaviour in the future.

2 – Encourage Reusable Materials in Packed Lunches

Do students who pack lunches rely on juice boxes, paper napkins, plastic bags, and disposable flatware? The chances are they do. If parents or carers have to pack lunches, reaching for disposable packaging is quick and easy to do.

If students are using plastic, one-use, and disposable packaging for their lunches, you can help reduce waste by encouraging them to consider other options. Using refillable water bottles, cloth napkins, traditional lunch boxes or canvas bags, reusable utensils and other ‘waste-friendly’ materials can make a massive impact on the amount of lunchtime waste your school collects. You can even consider selling such items with your school’s branding.

Difficulty Rating: 3

Impact: Encouraging students with games and rewards is easy. Getting parents on board is the hard part, but it’s key. Once you have the parents on board, you’re reducing waste both in your school and in your pupils’ homes. Reducing your school’s waste is not only good for the environment, it may well also reduce your garbage collection fees.

3 – Building on Waste-Free Days – Focus on Changing Culture

Schools can take small steps at first. For example, “Waste-Free Wednesdays” or other single days for practicing good environmental awareness. This approach can raise awareness of the topic as well as provide opportunities to develop new, longer-term ideas.

It takes time and consistency to establish new habits, so encouraging a routine approach to waste is better than a one-off effort. Focus on improving students’ habits, encouraging parents to purchase fewer products with disposable wrappers, and fostering a culture of environmental concern.

Living as waste-free as possible can become the entire school’s aim and part of students’ everyday lives.

Difficulty Rating: 10

Impact: It’s not easy to change a whole community’s mindset. But, in the long run, it’s one of the most valuable things you can do. By positively changing the waste habits of children, you can bring about life-long environmental change.

4 – Donate Unused School Supplies and Office Equipment

At the end of the year, classrooms fill up with pencils, notebooks, and other learning tools… and students often expect brand new equipment to start with in the new school year.

Why not donate those used items to a summer camp, or to a school supply bank for students in need? You can do the same thing with office and technology equipment that you no longer need by finding a school or charity that can use it.

Make sure that any broken or unusable materials are disposed of responsibly. It’s important that this forms part of your school’s policies.

‘Computers for Schools (CFS+)’ accepts donations of unwanted digital hardware and accessories to be reused by schools in Canada. Just because something is no longer used or needed in your own school doesn’t mean it won’t be helpful to a pupil at another school.

There are many schemes in operation across America and Canada that facilitate recycling school supplies and equipment and giving other schools the opportunity to benefit from them. Google what’s available in your local area.

Difficulty Rating: 1

Impact: A study in Minnesota concluded that the state’s schools generated 483,520 pounds of waste per day. By donating, reusing, or recycling school supplies and equipment, schools can make a major dent in their waste production load and save money on disposal costs.

5 – Partner with a Recycling Facility

Kids love field trips, so why not take a trip to the neighbourhood recycling center? They’ll enjoy learning about how much trash your town produces, what happens to it when it arrives at the facility, and what its environmental impact is.

A recycling facility can also provide a variety of fun and effective recycling activities to help your students not only learn about waste reduction but also practice it at school. The professionals at your local recycling center will have lots of community-specific ideas that you and your students can implement. Students will be able to ask questions and get answers from professionals. Trips like this are memorable and can have a lasting effect on attitudes and behaviours.

Difficulty Rating: 2

Impact: By educating your students about how to lessen their environmental footprint, you can shape their habits and teach them to practice good environmental stewardship in the future.

6 – Waste and Recycling Homework

Once students are fired up by their recycling projects at school, you can ask them to take their new knowledge and habits home with them. They can spend time auditing their own homes and coming up with ideas that can be easily implemented. Their parents may well be interested in reducing waste but feel that they don’t have time to research the possibilities.

Difficulty Rating: 2

Impact: Getting students to share their knowledge and new practices with parents and carers creates even more positive change and helps homes implement new habits and processes.

Reducing Waste in Factories

Many people think of the environmental impact that factories have in terms of air pollution. Whilst air pollution is certainly a big problem, there are other factors at play that cause damage to our planet. Did you know that farm factories alone produce enough waste to fill the Empire State Building every single day? That’s an amazing and shocking statistic. Material waste is a serious issue for manufacturers in all sectors.

Let’s have a look at some of the steps that factories can take to reduce the waste they create.

1 – Reduce Packaging Materials

According to Industrial, “The shape and design of your packages is the largest driver of material costs. Packages are also, of course, a key element in the success of any product. Starting with a package design that incorporates sustainability and recyclability not only helps the environment, it also positions your company as a leader in package design.” Work with your package designer to find a green, minimalist, and compelling style.

More and more customers are holding factories to account for their impact on the environment. If you don’t have a robust policy that you can back up with evidence, it’s high time that you did. As well as providing reassurance to those who buy from you, it’s a marketing tool to use to demonstrate you are an environmentally conscious organization.

Difficulty Rating: 6

Impact: Packaging reduction limits the use of virgin materials for new products, reduces methane and other hazardous waste at the landfill, and minimizes the pollution produced by burning plastic packaging. As well as the positive impact on the environment, addressing this issue can help you win more business.

2 – Keep an Accurate Inventory

If you know what you have available, you won’t accidentally create waste by over-purchasing. It’s especially critical to keep track of any perishable items in storage in order to reduce unnecessary waste and expense.

Ensure that someone has responsibility for keeping a regular and accurate inventory of stock and other materials. This may mean investment in software to make the process easy and less time-consuming than filling in logs by hand. Using an electronic system also means that other employees and management can access the data in real-time and may even be able to input their own data concerning stock levels and usage.

Difficulty Rating: 4

Impact: The impact of this tactic is as much economic as it is environmental. In addition to reducing wasteful over-purchasing, accurate inventory counts save manufacturers countless dollars each year. Knowing what you have in stock and where it’s located can also save you time that would be spent locating and checking such materials.

3 – Reduce Water Usage

Make your business greener by treating water as the valuable resource it is. Optimize water pressure, check for any leaks and be sure all water used is actually providing value for your company. Conducting a water audit can be a good place to start to determine where your manufacturing facility may have an opportunity to reduce water consumption.

Difficulty Rating: 8

Impact: Water is possibly the world’s most valuable resource. Due to the effects of climate change, many parts of the world are experiencing water shortages. Minimizing potable water waste is a powerful way to conserve this valuable resource and avoid future shortages.

4 – Install a Rainwater Harvesting System

Climate change means that whilst some areas are affected by droughts, heavy rainfall is becoming increasingly common in other areas. With water being such a valuable commodity, it’s time you started thinking about how this ‘gift from the clouds’ can be put to good use.

New technologies in rainwater harvesting mean that systems can be installed easily on your property that allow for the collection, storage, filtration, and use of rainwater. In fact, these cutting-edge systems are surprisingly low cost to install and the installations cause little disruption.

Collected rainwater is stored in tanks and can be used for non-potable purposes or treated and used as potable (drinking) water.

Difficulty Rating: 9

Impact: This solution has two-fold benefits: using rainwater in this way can reduce your water costs. It also reduces rainwater run-off into drainage systems. This water must be piped and processed by water companies, which takes energy and resources.

5 – Use Digital Media for Communications

Vendors, buyers, and other partners no longer expect to receive printed materials. Today, email is not only an acceptable kind of formal communication, it’s become ‘the norm’.

If you have contacts who are currently receiving your communications via print, talk to them about changing to electronic communication and explain your reasons. Documents can even be electronically signed, so paper communications should be part of the past.

By using email, messaging apps, and texts or calls, you can communicate with your employees and partners much more effectively than by printing and circulating paper memos, notes, and reports. Digital communication is instant and you can request delivery and read receipts – no more saying they didn’t receive the letter in the mail!

There are also many effective digital meeting apps now available which means you can hold meetings online and share minutes and notes instantly. This means a reduction in travel to meetings and reduces the cost both in time and materials.

Transitioning from a print culture to a digital one can take time and patience. But, in the long run, it pays off in the form of improved communication, reduced material costs, and less waste.

Difficulty Rating: 6

Impact: Going digital will help your operation work more smoothly and effectively, and will also lessen its environmental impact. It’s a win-win.

6 – Cut Down on Bottled Water

According to Forbes, one million plastic bottles are sold every minute. Of these, 91% never get recycled. Each bottle takes 400 years to decompose. That’s a truly shocking statistic.

While these bottles are easy to recycle, few people make the effort to do it. You could post signs encouraging your employees to recycle. But, even better, why not remove bottles and vending machines from your facility, and provide stations for employees to fill up their own reusable bottles with water? You could even consider supplying reusable bottles carrying your organization’s branding – a useful marketing opportunity.

Many of the things we can do to reduce waste are very simple and take little time. Our society is just used to having things instantly on-hand without having to plan ahead. It’s time to change! Even small things make a huge difference when they are multiplied by our enormous (and ever-growing) population.

Difficulty Rating: 1

Impact: Plastic pollution is a serious problem. 22 million pounds of plastic end up in the Great Lakes each year. At current rates, the world’s oceans will contain more pounds of plastic than fish by 2050. Reducing plastic use can make serious strides towards meeting the Zero Waste Challenge.

7 – Query your Suppliers

If you’re taking steps to change your own negative impact on the environment, it stands to reason that you need to know the companies you use are doing the same. Talk to the people who supply your factory and ask them what their policies are regarding recycling and waste. You can even share some ideas of your own with them.

You’ll find that they’ll be likely to engage as, after all, you’re their customer and they won’t want you taking your business elsewhere because their policies aren’t in line with your own.

Difficulty Rating: 2

Impact: Talking to your suppliers helps you make an impact on other businesses as well as your own. Any steps we can take to minimize waste are good for us all.

8 – Outsource to an Eco-Consultant

If you’re really serious about making your factory as ‘green’ as possible, consider asking a professional consultant to advise. Such people are up to date with all the latest methods of minimizing the impact of waste and often have innovative ideas about recycling that may well save you money. This sort of initiative also demonstrates to your customers that you take your impact on the environment seriously and encourages new business from those whose policies and attitudes align with your own.

Difficulty Rating: 7

Impact: If you’re able to take this step, you’ll be assured that your policies are effective, efficient, and current. People are becoming more and more aware of the damage that factories and industry do to the planet. Being able to demonstrate a really solid environmental policy stands you in very good stead for future-proofing and growing your business.

Reducing Waste in Your Own Home

American families know they should recycle, but only about 34% actually do it, according to information from the Environmental Protection Agency. Canada is in an even worse position where, according to, only 9% of plastic waste is currently recycled.

People know that they should be taking action to help preserve the environment; the problem is that most aren’t sure what the options are or the best steps they can take.

It’s easy just to think ‘what difference can I make?’ After all, there are billions of us so does it really matter if I throw this plastic bottle in the trash or not? But, we can all make a difference. A billion raindrops make a lake, a thousand lakes make an ocean and oceans impact an entire planet’s climate.

Home is where all zero waste challenges start. Start recycling, reusing, and reducing waste at home and watch the waste-free revolution spread!

1 – Shop at the Farmers Market

The supermarket is probably the most convenient location you can use to shop for food, but it’s also one of the most environmentally inefficient.

Instead of shopping at the supermarket, pick up as much fresh produce and baked goods as possible at the farmers market or from local independent stores. Not only will the quality of this fresh food be welcomed by you, your family, and your friends, but you’ll also eliminate unnecessary packaging from the waste stream.

Shopping local is a great way to reduce the miles you travel and the gas you use. Homelife can be busy, but this tactic only takes a bit of forward planning to make a big difference.

Difficulty Rating: 5

Impact: Buying locally reduces food transportation, improves the regional economy, and helps protect the environment from unnecessary waste and pollution.

2 – Drink Tap Water

After checking with your municipality that the local water is clean and safe for drinking, introduce your family to the joys of fresh, cold tap water. In most cities, the stuff that comes out of your tap is just as clean and healthy as what you buy in plastic bottles. And it’s certainly better for your family than soda or energy drinks!

Even though some water bottles are recyclable, the process of recycling takes energy. Drink more tap water to save big on groceries and avoid adding all those bottles and cans to the mountains of waste in our landfills and the overloaded, energy-hungry processes at our recycling plants.

Difficulty Rating: 1

Impact: For every gallon of water that goes into a bottle, two gallons are wasted during production. About 80% of plastic water bottles never get recycled, and tap water is 3500 times cheaper than bottled water. It’s a no-brainer!

3 – Shop at Your Local Thrift Store

Would you be surprised to learn that the fashion industry is one of the most environmentally destructive businesses around? Growing cotton, flax, linen, and other fibrous plants consumes massive amounts of water. To make matters worse, many consumers get rid of clothes after wearing them only a few times.

Try picking up some secondhand pieces at the local thrift shop instead of continuing to support the disposable clothing industry. Or, try organizing a ‘bring and swap’ clothes party. You take what clothing you no longer use and come home with a new wardrobe! You’ll save a bundle while reducing landfill and water waste.

You can use the same means to swap items of furniture, dishware, and other household goods.

Difficulty Rating: 3

Impact: Recycling clothes preserves water, increases available landfill space, and reduces chemical pollution.

4 – Make Meal Plans

Without a meal plan, anything goes. Rushed dinners often end with take-out in disposable containers or prepackaged products that contribute to landfill.

Also, take-out meals are often less healthy and can cause significant food waste due to their large portion sizes. Making a weekly meal plan and using it to guide your shopping trips can cut down on a surprising amount of waste in the kitchen.

You may also consider pooling resources and having shared meal evenings with your neighbours – great for reducing waste and your social life.

Difficulty Rating: 2

Impact: Food waste is a serious environmental (not to mention moral) problem in developed countries. It’s the second leading cause of climate change. Reducing or composting the food you throw away might be your single most important contribution to environmental conservation.

5 – Ban Plastic Bags

Yes, they’re convenient, but they’re incredibly detrimental to the environment. Instead of getting new plastic bags every time you visit the grocery store, invest in a few reusable cloth bags. Keep them rolled up by the door or in your car, so they’ll be at hand when you leave to go shopping. Just don’t forget to take them with you!

Difficulty Rating: 1

Impact: Plastic bags kill or injure thousands of birds and marine animals each year. They also block drains, which contributes to serious flooding, especially in low-income countries. Eliminating plastic bag consumption would remove a major environmental hazard for animals and humans alike.

6 – Use Refills for Cosmetics and Cleaning Products

Many cosmetics, cleaning products, and other household substances are sold in plastic bottles, pots, and packaging. Whilst some of these packaging materials may well be recyclable, a lot of them are not. Also, remember that the recycling process itself takes a lot of energy.

Look around for products that offer refillable versions. Many stores are now catching on to our desire to create less waste – especially plastic waste – and they stock refillable versions. There are also some shampoos and other hair products available in ‘bar’ form rather than as a liquid in a bottle. These bars come with little or no packaging at all.

Difficulty Rating: 3

Impact: Using refills instead of re-buying bottled products substantially reduces your waste. Just take a look at the amount of packaging you discard from these products. Refilling means all that plastic won’t end up cluttering up the planet.

7 – Dealing With Pet Waste

We all love our pets but, boy, do they make a mess! America and Canada’s combined 96.6 million pet dogs produce some 12 million tonnes of poop every year (apparently!)

If you have a dog and use ‘poop bags’, check that the bags you’re using are biodegradable and dispose of them correctly in provided bins.

If you have a cat, check that the litter you’re using isn’t detrimental to the environment. The production and disposal of cat litter can be extremely damaging to our planet. For example, clay litter takes thousands of years to degrade on landfill sites. But there are more environmentally friendly alternatives, try researching to find biodegradable options for your furry friends!

Difficulty Rating: 1

Impact: Using biodegradable pet products of all kinds leads to less landfill and less cost to the environment in manufacturing and processing plastics.

8 – Ask when you’re Shopping

Don’t be embarrassed to ask about waste, recycling, and environmental policies wherever you shop. Remember, you are the customer and you have a right to know how your purchase may impact the planet.

Many retailers are aware that recycling and eliminating things like single-use plastic are becoming more important to their customers. They should be able to tell you what steps they’re taking to minimize a product’s negative impact – and if they’re not you can take your business elsewhere!

Difficulty Rating: 1

Impact: Asking these questions not only gives you the choice of buying products that are less harmful to the environment, it also gives retailers an incentive to make sure the items they sell are kinder to the planet.

Reducing Waste in Retail Settings

Retail outlets churn out a massive quantity of boxes, plastic bags, Styrofoam peanuts, and other recyclables every day. Far too much of it ends up in landfill. Retailers can take several easy steps to save on their own costs and reduce the environmental impact of their waste.

1 – Encourage Use of Reusable Shopping Bags

By selling customers reusable shopping bags, your retail brand is demonstrating its commitment to going greener. You’ll also reduce the number of plastic bags you buy that will eventually end up in the landfill or ocean. Reusable bags encourage consumers to think about other ways to do their part and be environmentally conscientious. They’re also a great way of promoting your outlet with branding and other promotions.

Difficulty Rating: 2

Impact: Stores can make significant savings each year by reducing their need to purchase plastic bags. Using reusable shopping bags also reduces harmful plastic waste in our environment.

2 – Start an Upcycle Program

If it’s feasible in your industry, consider launching an upcycling program. Encourage customers to bring in old pieces and learn how to improve them. Your participating customers will develop loyalty to your brand, and the environment will benefit from having fewer items dumped in landfills.

Difficulty Rating: 7

Impact: According to the Pachamama Alliance, “For every ton of discarded textiles used again, 20 tons of CO2 is prevented from entering the atmosphere.” Other industries have comparable statistics. Upcycling is a way to make a substantial positive impact.

3 – Donate Slightly Damaged Merchandise

Instead of sending slightly damaged goods to the recycling or trash, consider selling them at a discount or donating them to a local charity. Some organizations donate or sell these products at low cost to people on a low income.

Find a good charity partner in your area who can maximize the value of your contributions and work with you regularly over the long term. This approach makes sure your donations get used in a way that’s helpful to the community.

This strategy contributes to the circular economy by extending product life cycles; it keeps resources in circulation longer by extracting the maximum value at each stage of use until repair or recycling is required.

Difficulty Rating: 4

Impact: Every item you donate is one more piece that doesn’t find its way to the landfill.

4 – Partner with Nearby Retailers to Make Recycling More Cost-Effective

Many malls provide a single recycling strategy that makes it easy for small stores to use the facilities of larger retailers. If your shop sits in a strip mall or near other retail outlets, consider following this model and working together.

Are you located near a large facility like Costco or Target? Ask if your store can participate in their recycling program. Often, these larger retailers make use of bailers, shredders, and other volume reducers that small stores can find cost-prohibitive.

Difficulty Rating: 4

Impact: By working together with larger stores, small retailers can make a big dent in their contribution to the waste stream and save money in the process.

5 – Bale, Compact, or Shred Waste to Reduce Volume

Cardboard, paper, soft plastic, aluminum, and landfill waste can all be compacted, baled, or shredded to reduce its volume. Retailers should talk to waste management companies about buying, leasing, or renting the machinery to do this work. If the price seems unaffordable, think about partnering with another business, or talk to your recycling company about cost-effective alternatives.

Difficulty Rating: 7

Impact: By baling, compacting, or shredding waste on-site, your business can reduce waste volume by up to 90% and waste removal costs by up to 50%.

What Can I Recycle?

Reducing and recycling work more effectively when we all pitch in and do our part, no matter how small that part may seem.

It’s About Education

Understanding what can be done with regards to reducing waste and recycling is key. Obviously, what you can recycle largely depends on what products you currently use! There may also be alternative products you can use that reduce waste or are easier to recycle or reuse.

Everyone Can Do Something!

No matter what you do in life, where, or how you live, there are things that you can do. Are you a stay-at-home parent? Maybe you can buy in bulk to reduce packaging. Are you a teacher? Try getting your class involved in composting. A manager? Make sure your team has reusable resources. Regardless of industry or location, we can all change our behaviours to protect the future of our beautiful planet.

Recycling in Your Area

Local recycling policies may differ slightly from each other due to the waste management processes available. If you’re unsure about exactly what you should be recycling, contact your town’s recycling plant to ask.

In America, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes a report on how to recycle, which is a good place to start.

In Canada, use the Government of Canada’s Inventory of Recycling Programs to find out where to recycle each type of waste by region.

Generally, the following items are recycled widely:

  • Plastic bottles and containers, along with their lids or caps
  • Food and beverage cans
  • Empty aerosols
  • Empty cosmetics containers
  • Empty household cleaner containers
  • Wine, beer and soft drink bottles (check local arrangements for glass)
  • Paper of all sorts, including newspaper, magazines, books, phonebooks, and mail
  • Cardboard boxes, cardboard packaging, and paper board
  • Metal food containers – tin, aluminum, and steel
  • Electrical equipment
  • Digital and computer equipment
  • Printers, faxes, and phones
  • Household appliances
  • Furniture – wooden, metal and some plastic
  • Clothing and shoes
  • Bedding, curtains, rugs and other household textiles
  • Wooden doors and fittings
  • Wooden fences and other outdoor wood items
  • Children’s play equipment
  • Building materials, soil, and sand
  • Old wallpaper and wall coverings
  • Picture frames – wooden, metal, and some plastics
  • Car parts
  • Complete cars (local dealers collect
  • Car tyres
  • Garden equipment, such as tools and wheelbarrows.

Remember, just because something isn’t classed as ‘recyclable’ in your area doesn’t mean that it cannot be reused or repurposed to keep it out of the landfill.

Use your imagination… Artist Asher Jay, known for her exhibits made from single-use plastic water bottles, created a 12-foot-high waterfall out of painted bottles in Toronto’s Union Station. Jay and her team salvaged and used 900 water bottles from the city’s dumpsters – the same number that is consumed and discarded in Toronto every five minutes!