Holistic Waste Management – Implementing Zero Waste To Landfill At Your Business

There is a saying in computer programming that “the first 90% of the code accounts for the first 90% of the development time” and “the remaining 10% of the code accounts for the other 90% of the development time” (Tom Cargill of Bell Labs). This humorous aphorism, in which the total project time ends up exceeding 100%, is known as the Ninety-ninety Rule. While this saying has been adopted by project managers across industries, it is especially well suited to the waste and recycling industry, specifically when trying to achieve Zero Waste to Landfill.

There are common waste materials such as metal, paper, plastic, and cardboard which many Americans have learned from grade school to recognize as recyclable. They are materials which are relatively easy to identify and for which there are longstanding and familiar markets. These materials constitute the “first ninety percent,” when striving to reduce waste to landfill. However, it’s the last metaphorical 10 percent of waste, the difficult waste materials, which stand as the largest obstacle companies face when implementing Zero Waste to Landfill initiatives.


Something we see frequently when helping businesses trying to reduce their company’s waste to landfill is a tendency for them to focus on commodity based solutions: if you produce divertible commodity x, look for the outlet willing to pay the highest amount for that commodity (or charge the lowest amount).  For instance, if a business generates large quantities of corrugated cardboard (OCC) they might try finding a vender specifically interested in purchasing their cardboard, or if they generate scrap metal waste they might submit an RFP (request for proposals) for vendors to bid on their metal waste. This is a very common practice, but one which we have found can prove counterproductive for businesses trying to achieve Zero Waste to Landfill, as it overlooks the last 10 percent of waste materials.

The Last 10 Percent

Things that fit into the metaphorical last 10 percent aren’t necessarily non-recyclable materials. We like to think that everything is recyclable if you have someone willing and able to devote resources to recycling it. However, not all commodities have high market demand, and some materials are logistically more difficult to recycle. For instance, glass is an item for which there are many recycling solutions – there are even solutions for tempered glass, such as use as an aggregate material in concrete. But glass is heavy and can prove expensive to transport. It also poses a safety hazard to anyone handling disposed chards.  Because of this, glass falls under the last 10 percent category of waste. It can be expensive to ship and difficult to collect for recycling. Therefore recycling companies may not offer high (or any) rebates for glass, and companies may end up spending more to recycle the material than they would spend landfilling it. Similar items that fall into the last 10 percent category include different types of batteries and electronic waste, organic waste, and mixed material packaging.

The Holistic Waste Management Approach

So how can businesses tackle the last percentage of waste items? The key is to look at your waste stream as a single problem instead of finding solutions for individual commodities. It is relatively easy to find landfill alternatives for valuable materials. However, if you find solutions for these commodities without accounting for your last 10 percent, you have not reached Zero Waste to Landfill. Taking a holistic waste management approach can allow your company to leverage valuable waste streams to find innovative solutions for difficult waste items. Also, finding one solution for your total waste stream allows you to compile one data set, making it easier to track your company’s success towards reaching any corporate landfill reduction goals.

The only way to achieve Zero Waste to Landfill is by finding landfill alternatives for all waste items, not just valuable materials. Therefore, it is important to choose a waste and recycling service provider that can provide a total waste solution for your business. Not only will this method help your company reach its Zero Waste to Landfill goal, but using a single service provider to manage your entire waste stream will reduce the time and resources spent in-house managing your waste solutions. Using a single partner should also improve collection, reporting, and overall quality of service, especially for businesses with multiple facility locations.

To learn more about our holistic waste management solutions, contact us.