Understanding Zero Waste to Landfill Certification

We’re happy to see a trend of businesses moving towards environmentally sustainable practices. With this, there’s been more and more talk about increasing recycling and reducing waste to landfill, and companies have started looking into sustainability themed programs such as Zero Waste to Landfill certification. But there’s still a lot of confusion over what Zero Waste to Landfill (ZWTL) means and what it means to be ZWTL certified. Here are our thoughts on the subject.

What does it mean to be “Zero Waste to Landfill?”
Well – that depends. Some companies and certification programs take the term to literally mean an organization isn’t landfilling anything. All the solid waste produced at their facilities should be reused, recycled, composted, or disposed of via some other outlet. However, there are other companies which consider Zero Waste as a guiding ideal rather than a benchmark.  They are willing to allow a small percentage of waste materials to be landfilled while still calling the program Zero Waste to Landfill. Other companies are satisfied with calling themselves ZWTL if none of their manufacturing waste goes to landfill… and the debate doesn’t stop there. People also differ in opinion over whether or not using Waste to Energy outlets for non-recyclable and non-compostable materials is equivalent to landfilling the items. Some argue in favor of Waste to Energy while others argue against it. Because there isn’t a universally recognized definition for achieving Zero Waste or Zero Waste to Landfill, there is a real likelihood that two different ZWTL certified companies may practice two completely different interpretations of the concept.

If there’s no universal standard, why get certified?
Getting certified in anything by a trusted third-party lends validity to your organization. Even if a program’s certification criteria is not universally recognized, meeting the certification standards still offers proof that your words match your actions. For instance, if your company is Zero Waste to Landfill certified, but the certification program allows for up to 3% of your waste to be incinerated via Waste to Energy, choosing to be certified validates that your company is diverting at least 97% of its waste. That’s huge! So in that sense, why not get certified? On the opposite side of the argument, there are instances where trying to meet the “one size fits all” requirements of a certification program prove detrimental to a company’s larger sustainability objectives.

Who offers Zero Waste to Landfill certification?
Four organizations which offer ZWTL certification are Green Circle Certified, NSF International, Underwriters Laboratory (UL), and the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC). However each of these certification programs is slightly different. We would strongly encourage you to research which would be the best fit for your company’s specific diversion goals. Here are some questions you might want to answer before selecting a certification program:

  • What is in your waste stream? Do you have materials which are relatively easy to recover and cost effective to recycle or will you need to utilize non-traditional waste outlets to reach your diversion goals?
  • What are the hard goals for your diversion program? Is your company onboard with making diversion a key priority?
  • Are you looking to make changes to your entire supply chain or is your business specifically targeting disposal practices?
  • Does your company have any other restrictions you want enforced for your disposal practices?

What happens during certification?
Again, this depends on the program you choose. However, many certification programs will incorporate some or all of the following steps:

  • Application Process – This will often ask you to describe your company and the type and volume of waste you produce. It may also ask what kinds of recycling and other diversion programs you have in place and what vendors you use for your waste and recycling services.
  • Site Visit/Waste Audit – Usually someone will visit your facility and see how your waste is managed in practice.
  • Document Audit – Some programs may ask for certificates of recycling or certificates of destruction from your waste vendors. Others may want to see invoices or other documents to support the claim that your materials are being diverted rather than landfilled.

Whether you call it Zero Waste, Landfill Free, Zero Waste to Landfill, or some other name, it’s great to be able to clearly define your company’s diversion goals – and being able to complete a certification process that acknowledges your successful diversion practices can help your company show that your goals are more than just green washing.

To learn what services Northstar offers to help business meet their Zero Waste to Landfill objectives, contact us today.