Does your business qualify as “Zero Waste Certified”?

Author: Celeste McMickle, Senior Sustainability Consultant

Waste reduction is an important topic these days in New York, as the city is currently targeting sending “zero waste to landfills” by the year 2030 as part of the One NYC program. What zero waste means from a practical standpoint is a reduction of more than 90% of waste to landfills, as this for non-recyclable toxins, and so forth.

Much like the US Green Building Council (USGBC), the US Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) has developed a rating system that allows business to track and achieve different performance tiers of waste reduction in their operational practices. Zero waste is defined as, “designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources and not burn or bury them.”

There are four levels of performance. A company is considered to be zero-waste certified once it hits that 90% reduction number and from there can achieve one of four levels of certification:

• Bronze: 90.1% – 94.9% reduction
• Silver: 95%-96.9% reduction
• Gold: 97%-98.9% reduction
• Platinum: 99% – 100% reduction

To hit certification targets, eligible companies follow a checklist that includes points such as donating food waste as compost or animal feed, reuse of various products such as pallets (as opposed to buying new), taking back waste products that have been shipped out in commerce, eliminating non-recyclable packaging, and having a staff member for whom monitoring zero waste is written in their job description.

The program focuses on reducing and reusing, then recycling, composting, and redesigning policies as strategies to achieve waste reduction in business. The program encourages monitoring possibilities for a closed-loop system both upstream and downstream.

A focal point of the certification program is a waste audit. This involves a company monitoring their waste management practices and addressing some of the following questions:

• What goes into our waste stream (landfill AND recycling)?
• How often is trash collected?
• What type of bins are being used for trash collection/are they appropriate (size, type, etc.)?
• What are the haulers practices for pick up and where is the waste going?
• What can be done to make improvements in all of these areas?

From there, companies can use the information gathered in the audit to make informed decisions about waste reduction policies by looking at weight (tonnage of various products observed in audit) vs. cost (haulers, landfill, and recyclables) vs. benefits (economic, social, and environmental).

SWA_US_Zero_Waste_Business_Council_USZWBCBecoming Zero Waste Business Certified requires 12 months of tracking and monitoring to make sure targets have been reached, and recertification every 3 years.

Any company is eligible to become a Zero Waste Certified facility. Interested parties can go to to be connected with the council and register a project.

Individuals can also become Zero Waste Business Certified. It is a lot like becoming a LEED AP in that professionals are trained to help implement zero waste policies and help facilities to become Zero Waste Certified. For more information visit

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