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10 Ways Your Building Can Reach Its Zero Waste Goals

Earlier this month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his Zero Waste Challenge, in which 31 businesses across all five boroughs have pledged to divert at least 50% of their waste. Already, participants have diverted nearly 13,000 tons, including composting 4,000 tons. The city’s goal: sending zero waste to landfills and incinerators by 2030.


Among commercial real estate and well-known building participants are SL Green (with tenants Viacom and COOKFOX Architects), The Durst Organization, the Barclays Center (above), Citi Field, the Starrett-Lehigh Building, and the Peninsula, Pierre and Waldorf-Astoria hotels, which will continue in the challenge through mid-June.

They join a variety of commercial tenants, food wholesalers, grocers and caterers, schools, hotels, restaurants and TV productions that have already achieved an average diversion rate of 60% and will be challenged to up that to 75% then ultimately 90%. The challenge also  requires leftover edible food to be donated, and 107 tons have already been provided to hungry New Yorkers. (There are 1.4 million people who struggle to put meals on their tables regularly, according to City Harvest.)

The challenge comes ahead of the new commercial organics law, which will require certain subsets of businesses to source separate food scraps and other organic material for beneficial use in 2017, as well as new commercial recycling rules that simplify the city’s current rules and state all businesses must recycle all recyclable materials.


But is zero waste in a building achievable? It may very well be. JLL solid waste program manager Ana Wyssmann recently published her five top tips for zero-waste planning in TriplePundit. Among her suggestions:

1) Define the current status and future goals of waste management in your facility by conducting a waste stream audit, noting who’s doing the wasting and what resources they’d need.

2) Learn the ropes of the waste commodity market by understanding what unique materials your building uses that might be of special interest to recyclers.

3) Prepare a business case, using the waste audit and current market trends to support the business case for recycling and reuse. Upfront investment is generally needed, and corporate decision-makers are usually more inspired to foot the bill when a long-term value is clear.

4) Engage stakeholders through goal setting and modeling; incentives and educating owners, tenants and service providers are also essential. Users must not only know how to use new tools and resources, but understand why they’re in place.

5) Monitor progress, as these zero-waste programs take time. Metrics help decision-makers view trends and benchmark progress for long-term success.

Harvard University's Widener Library

Harvard University offers additional tips from its Building Management Policies and Guidelines:

6) Make recycling and composting as easy as trash disposal by making sure there are receptacles for each next to trash bins and posting clear rules for recycling, compost and trash.

7) Operate thrifty buildings in which occupants recycle all papers, boxes, bottles and cans; custodians use up paper towels in dispensers; tradespeople recycle waste from maintenance work; landscapers compost trimmings and incorporate food scrap compost; caterers donate unserved food and supply compostable serving material; and buildings supply a way for building occupants to refill water bottles and wash their own dishes.

8) Form and support a local green team to help encourage behaviors necessary to achieve zero waste, conduct waste audits and organize community sharing events, among others.

9) Ingrain the goals of zero waste by conveying to all occupants about getting the full value from all materials, including the need to refurbish, remanufacture, repair and reuse whenever possible.

10) Train and retrain occupants, especially when there is a lot of turnover. Refresh and keep up front messages about waste reduction, reuse and recycling, as well as building-specific protocols.