Since 1994, participants in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) WasteWise program have recycled, composted and reduced more than 200 million tons of solid waste. In 2016, participants avoided more than $296 million in tipping fees and recovered more than $290 million in materials, according to the EPA.
The free voluntary program provides a means to capture data to help set goals, gauge progress and view trends. Participants tap into technical assistance, and there’s an award program. The 863 partners are manufacturers, retailers and service providers as well federal, state and local governments and other non-corporate institutions.
“The tracking system has standardized features, but can also be customized to provide features and functionality to meet specific customer needs. Data points, data mapping and other functional requirements are client-specific,” says an EPA spokesperson.
Achievements must be reported annually, though the online system allows for input on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. And accounts can be tailored to track each of a company’s locations.
The ability to record diversion by individual site was part of what appealed to Nadereh Afsharmanesh, vice president of sustainability and education at Earth Friendly Products. The Cypress, Calif-based company manufactures more than 220 industrial and residential cleaning products at four plants.
“We have our own zero waste program implemented at each facility," says Afsharmanesh. "It’s a big project, and you must track a lot of detailed information to run a successful program … WasteWise helps with thinking about the required details including weight and type of material we are recycling and sorting, like plastics No. 1 to No. 7."
A "metrics for waste reduction" page has resources to monitor and evaluate reduction of multiple waste types, including a table that converts measurements from volume to weight.
Through another program feature, the "food challenge component," data can be input to reflect food waste recovered in a year.
Beyond that, “you can input everything you reuse or recycle, and at the end you get information like greenhouse gas savings and how many cars that it’s equivalent to taking off the road,” says Margaret Kevin-King, building and grounds supervisor at the U.S. Department of Energy Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. “It’s information you can share with your staff. It shows them what their efforts are accomplishing.”
Kevin-King is tasked with managing construction waste and office waste, tracking weight of materials generated and recycled.
“At the end of the year, we calculate what went to landfill and what was recycled and reused. We were already doing this kind of thing. But WasteWise gets you thinking of other materials you could be recycling and suggests additional sources to send the materials,” she says.
Kevin-King sees the recognition and chance to share and learn best practices among the greatest benefits of the program. Plus, she earns credits to maintain certification with New Jersey Certified Recycling Professionals organization.
Illinois electrics utility ComEd recycles office waste, oil, scrap metal, concrete/asphalt, electronics and batteries, among other materials.
Another benefit to participating in WasteWise is the ability to benchmark recycling performance with other large businesses as well as conduct internal comparisons among sister companies, says Sharon Pluskis, director of environmental health and safety for ComEd.
There are opportunities to network and hear of others’ best practices, including at meetings twice a year. But Pluskis believes if there is one area for improvement, it would be to further promote platforms for organizations and businesses to share more innovative ideas and lessons learned.
A helpline provides one-on-one assistance with establishing baseline data and setting waste diversion goals. Further support includes promotional resources downloadable from the WasteWise website, including templates for press releases, fact sheets and a WasteWise logo that partners post to their websites, put on recycling bins or in reports.
Afsharmanesh has downloaded materials to educate staff at Earth Friendly Products but has used them beyond.
“We work with a museum, colleges, and other local entities to promote sustainability in their organizations and in the community at large. These materials help in our internal educational program about zero waste and in our community outreach,” she says.
The company set a goal of 80 percent diversion by 2015. It reached 95 percent diversion by that date, five years after implementing its own zero waste program and four years after joining WasteWise.
Through this EPA program, as well as support from U.S. Zero Waste Council, she says, “We get a whole picture to better understand details required to do these big projects to help us get to zero waste.”