Reduce, Reuse, Recycle to optimize material use
Optimized material selection and use extends product value, promotes sustainability, and reduces costs. It is essential to better buying.
Almost all organizations can reduce packaging waste. Best practices for packaging apply to purchases as well as products being shipped.
Set standards with vendors
When selecting a vendor, consider how goods or materials will be packaged and shipped. The quantities of disposable packaging will take up receiving room space and later impact disposal costs. During negotiations you may wish to ask specific questions and specify contract provisions for all that is delivered:
- Will the purchases be packed in multiples to avoid individual packaging?
- What packaging and shipping materials can be reused?
- What is the take-back program for items only needed for a limited time?
Understand waste, to limit waste
If disposable or damaged materials are seen repeatedly, it may be time for a hands-on assessment. A waste audit will identify and quantify worn, damaged, and single-use items. Disposable items may have reusable alternatives. In other cases, availability or replacement parts and the ease of repair becomes an essential cost comparison.
The results from your waste assessment can be incorporated into purchasing decisions.
Reuse provides a ‘second life’ for purchased materials. While improving Return On Investment, reuse keeps excess and expended items from polluting a landfill or an ocean. Collaboration with other organizations or donating items to a cause or charity are optimal next steps.
Excess or expended materials may have salvage value which brings revenue rather than hauling costs.
Other forms of collaboration conserve value. One hospital network in Florida collaborates with a recycling service provider to reduce waste. As beds are changed, hospital employees gather the sheets and other linens into plastic bags. When collecting the linens, a hospital-owned linen service empties the bags. Empty bags are sent up a vacuum tube and into a recycling truck.
When contracting with the recycler, the hospital’s linen service anticipated that an occasional stray towel or sheet might remain in a recycled bag. It included a contract provision requiring that the recycling service return any linens, for potential reuse. That collaboration with the recycler saves the hospital hundreds of dollars a year in replacement materials.
Often, materials at the End Of Life (EOL) need not be discarded.
A hotel chain might specify 20 cycles as the EOL for bed sheets. Residential charities might want any sheets that have not reached the End of Useful Life (EOUL). Also, after work space or hotel room renovations, replaced furnishings could go to a variety of charities. Offices at any community partner will need chairs and lamps.
EOL item donations can bring the benefit of community appreciation and recognition along with any tax advantage.
An optimal recycling program may begin with the single-stream recycling of paper, glass, and plastic in offices, break rooms, and warehouses. Depending on what an organization uses and the quantity of EOUL material, specialized recycling can yield even greater value. Some retail stores accept small items like light bulbs, batteries, printer cartridges, and pens.
Specialized recycling facilities like these examples are the best options for items in larger quantities:
- Any retail or commercial organization that provides uniforms should consider working with a textile recycler. The same is true for hospitals and other residential facilities, as well as fine dining restaurants. A textile recycler can take these EOL materials and turn them into new usable materials for the community.
- Residential facilities might also need to dispose of mattresses. Mattress recyclers (such as Mustard Seed in Orlando, Florida) disassemble mattresses, sending fabric, foam, and inner springs to other recyclers, reducing the material sent to landfill.
- Any organization that owns or manages property will one day renovate or construct buildings. The contracts for doing the work should specify Construction and Demolition (C&D) material recycling with a local C&D recycling facility.