Lisa M. McDougald | Zero-Waste Solutions for Business

Commentary

From grocery to retail, the service sector to restaurants and beyond, businesses need to take bold action in 2020 toward climate solutions by phasing in zero-waste programs, transitioning to zero-emissions transportation, and modeling themselves after companies leading in sustainability. Here are five first steps businesses can take to decrease their waste and positively impact their bottom line.

1. Join “We Mean Business” climate action coalition.

Businesses cannot effectively tackle the problem without knowing what steps to put in place and having the support to get there. We Mean Business is a coalition to support businesses that are ready to transition toward sustainability and obtain the resources to get there: WeMeanBusinessCoalition.org. As of this writing, 212 companies in the U.S. have taken the pledge to implement zero waste and sustainable solutions. 

2. Offer digital or e-receipts.

This is an easy switch, and many stores such as CVS have already done this. Digital receipts are easily filed in email accounts. Furthermore, the ink-fused thermal paper that most receipts are printed on is not BPA-free (Bisphenol A is a known toxic chemical that interferes with our hormones), which is another reason to stop printing them. 

3. Ditch plastic bags — just stop.

Stop offering plastic bags. Reusable cloth or recycled paper bags should replace all plastic bags — including the recycled ones — because they eventually turn into microplastics and harm wildlife, marine life and even humans. And implementing changes now couldn’t be more timely, as trash pickup service for Santa Clarita Valley businesses increased by 40% on Jan. 11 in the wake of China’s refusal to take recyclables from the U.S. 

4. Commit to offering certified plant-based meat alternatives.

Decreasing the amount of meat we consume is critical to bringing down our carbon emissions, since it takes a significant amount of water, grain and other resources to bring one slice of beef to the table. Many restaurants and markets in Santa Clarita now offer meat alternatives. The key is to significantly reduce our consumption of meat, which is something we can all do, and having good alternatives makes the switch easier.

5. Sell products with non-plastic, minimalist packaging.

Companies can easily adapt to glass bottles and jars with vacuum-sealed metal lids with the button on top for consumer safety, no plastic seals needed. Glass can be reused and recycled an infinite number of times. Companies can considerably decrease their internal waste and significantly reduce unnecessary external waste as well. Non-food products should be offered in minimal and non-plastic packaging made out of materials such as hemp, bamboo and recycled paper products. 

Other solutions that could be phased in over time: 

Creative ideas for reducing waste are being implemented around the world. For example, a Berlin-based company, Kaffeeform, makes “eco-friendly” to-go coffee mugs made from used coffee grounds gathered by bicycle around the city. In Indian and Asian markets, some businesses are making bowls and wraps out of banana leaves. Imagine what we could do with corn husks in California!

Additionally, cities and counties could adopt citywide deposit/rebate programs to establish circular zero-waste systems for restaurants and food businesses. For instance, imagine standardized ceramic containers with silicone lids brandishing the city of Santa Clarita logo that restaurants could offer for to-go containers rather than the throwaway kind. Customers would purchase the container, keep them or turn them back in for a rebate at any participating restaurant or pick-up/drop off center. If a restaurant runs out, they simply pick up more at designated locations. This would effectively resolve our ballooning single-use container problem. Pick-up/drop-off centers could be located in strategic retail areas. 

Lastly, companies can make progress toward zero emissions in daily operations by: setting up refill/reuse stations for their most common products, streamlining and localizing suppliers and vendors as much as possible, choosing green transportation (train, biodiesel, electric) for all aspects of business, and committing to zero waste by adopting circular economy systems.

Growing support for bold legislation: Most notably, businesses and consumers can do even more together by pushing our leaders to pass HR 763, the bipartisan carbon-pricing bill introduced by the House last year — the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019. It stands as the best first step in bold climate action. 

On the state level, California has introduced two comprehensive bills: The California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act (Senate Bill 54 and Assembly Bill 1080). California is the first state to introduce such legislation, which promises to reduce plastic and food waste 75% by 2030.

Lisa M. McDougald is a member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Santa Clarita chapter, and lives in Valencia.

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