Industries Missing Out On Cost Savings From Waste Management

June 1, 2007
A majority of waste that can be composted isn't.

Companies compost an average of 9% of their total waste despite the fact that industry estimates show that about 70% of waste can be composted, according to a report entitled "Garbage Is a Terrible Thing To Waste," released by the Global Renewable Energy and Environmental Network (GREEN). The report focuses on biodegradable/organic waste streams, which represent a major opportunity including potential ROI from many sources including reduced hauling and tipping fees, operational efficiencies, avoidance of governmental penalties and waste byproduct utilization.

"Waste management obviously isn't a glamorous subject, but it's one that organizations can no longer ignore," said Eric Gertsman, director of GREEN, a business-minded affinity group committed to advocating clean energy and sustainability solutions. "As America quickly runs out of space to dump its garbage, organizations should be considering several viable alternatives to alleviate the sting of rising costs while facing up to tough environmental realities. Yet they're not making the necessary changes fast enough, or at all, and they're going to pay a higher price later."

In 1980 there were approximately 20,000 landfills nationwide; today, there are less than 1,600, a staggering drop of over 92%.

Survey findings include:

  • Only 26% of respondents say they are aggressively exploring new or innovative waste management options, with another 51% casually doing so.
  • Respondents' two greatest concerns about landfills are groundwater contamination (53%) and the fact that many landfills are reaching capacity (27%).

Selling the idea of composting might take some effort as the survey respondents replied that composting "is not the right fit for my organization" (36%), "takes too much time and effort" (28%), "requires too much space" (26%), and "involves bad odors" (23%).

Composting ranks a lackluster ninth out of the eleven most important environmental topics for organizations. The top priority is "energy conservation," followed by "general recycling," the "use of less harmful chemicals," "solid waste reduction" and "water conservation."

"In the past, due to a lack of technology, ample space and labor, in addition to the slow and odorous nature of traditional methods, composting largely fell out of favor," said Pete Scharfglass, CEO of BioSystem Solutions, which underwrote the report. "With the advance of new technologies, however, it is now possible for composting to occur in both urban and rural settings in a manner that can be clean and cash-flow positive."

The GREEN study includes a survey of hundreds of professionals working in operations, facilities management and environmental/sustainable management, as well as in-depth interviews with experts on waste management at a number of diverse and well-respected organizations: Chiquita Brands International, the City of Los Angeles, Cushman & Wakefield, John Deere Agri Services, Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, Michigan State University, Miller Brewing Company, New Belgium Brewery, Science Application International Corporation (SAIC), Starbucks, University of Minnesota and Yum! Brands.

Download the full report here.

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