Business Sense: Zero Waste success

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Six years ago, a cadre of Humboldt County folks from different towns and varied backgrounds came together to discuss the need for state of the art waste reduction, and Zero Waste Humboldt (ZWH) was born. Those first few years’ cold calls were often met with confusion. Local businesses were unfamiliar with Zero Waste and often confused it with recycling. News of the cost savings of the sustainable materials management model used in many regions of the country had not yet arrived in Humboldt County.

That has all changed. Today, with ZWH’s nearly 100 volunteers, business sponsors, dedicated leadership, and constant public education and training, an increasing number of businesses have embraced Zero Waste practices. Adoption of Zero Waste standards and methods comes in several forms:

(1) Design changes in products and packaging to reduce natural resources used in manufacturing, increase durability, reduce toxicity, increase reusability, and improve recyclability; (2) new terms negotiated with suppliers to prevent waste, and savvy questioning of “eco-friendly,” “biodegradable,” even “recyclable/ compostable” green marketing claims; (3) switch to reusable/washable containers for serving food and beverages and returnable products and packaging; and finally, (4) new venture creation — start-up enterprises that provide reuse and waste reduction services to local businesses.

Humboldt business managers are learning that the most significant step to reduce the amount of waste they generate, their costs of waste disposal, recycling and composting, and greenhouse gas emissions, is a proactive change in their purchasing to prevent waste in the first place. ZWH has also seen with the adoption of Zero Waste methods, businesses often rely on a network of other local businesses for collection, washing, or maintenance services.

Several local businesses are models for this Zero Waste trend.

Tom Tellez of Wallace & Hinz, said that “in the old days we had a 30-cubic-yard garbage bin picked up every other month and an 8-cubic-yard bin collected one to two times a week.” Wallace & Hinz is a Blue Lake manufacturer of high-end commercial bars. With continual and conscientious review of materials use in the company, their waste is now hauled in a 50-gallon cart once a week — a great example of how Zero Waste is the intersection of environmentally beneficial practices and reduced overhead costs.


Los Bagels and Six Rivers Brewery are also great examples of businesses that have trained their employees and adopted the discipline of detailed waste composition analyses to establish accurate baseline data to track waste generated, recycled, composted, and disposed over time. They are finding that implementing a new Zero Waste system may require initial capital investment, but long-term savings come in no longer purchasing single-use plastic straws, cup lids, plastic and paper cups and plates, and single serving plastic containers of cream, jelly, butter and condiments. The greatest savings for them has been in reduced garbage collection fees.

ZWH credits these local business models for listening to their customers’ and employees’ requests for less wasteful practices, and taking action to prevent waste and reuse materials.

To learn more about Zero Waste practices, email [email protected]

Margaret Gainer is a local Zero Waste consultant currently participating in a team developing Boston’s Zero Waste Plan.

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