March 3 2009 02:51 PM

Is it possible to reduce costs and help the environment? Yes! How, you ask? Well, one of our biggest problems is landfills. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. has 3,091 active landfills and over 10,000 old municipal landfills. Most of them are filled to capacity. Americans generate trash at an astonishing rate of 4.6 pounds per day per person, which translates to 251 million tons per year. And the majority of this trash will end up in a landfill! With this in mind, I introduce the idea of zero waste, which is becoming increasing popular.

What does zero waste mean?
Zero waste aims at reducing the amount going to the landfills by close to 90%. Zero energy waste means to eliminate waste whenever possible. It is not exactly recycling. Zero waste encourages an approach that prevents the creating of waste as much as possible.

The questions then come up: if it can't be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurnished, resold, recycled or composted it should be eliminated from production.

According to the Zero Waste Alliance, an organization that helps business to achieve zero waste, the goals that we should strive for are:
· Zero Waste of resources; 100% efficiency of energy, materials and human resources
· Zero Hazardous Waste
· Zero Emissions - to air, water, or soil
· Zero Waste in Production Activities
· Zero Waste in Administrative Activities
· Zero Waste in Product Life Cycle
· Zero Toxins
If we are able to accomplish that, the results will be:
· Reduced risks of employees
· Reduced risks to the environment
· Reduced presence of toxins creates less hazardous waste
· Reduced Costs
· Save Money

The results are very attractive, but can we really do it in our mail center or shipping operation? At least some of the alternatives mentioned above should be doable.

Here are some suggestions that will result in fewer carbon emissions and increased savings:
When it comes to choices on packaging, most of us still use the old Styrofoam, which is made up of long strands of styrene molecules with lots of air pockets. There are many alternatives out there such as newspapers, bubble wrap or used boxes. These materials will most likely end up in a landfill and will take many years to dissolve. Each American sends about 300 pounds of packaging to the landfill every year. A green alternative is to use starch peanuts. This Clean Green packing material is a starch-based, biodegradable packaging product that dissolves with water or in a compost setting. This product has been accepted by the packaging industry and has stood the test of time and tactics from the plastics and recycling industries. So, there's plenty of room for improvement. When you have to buy new, choose biodegradable packing materials or those made from post-consumer recycled content. If you're willing to spend a little more, you can buy packing peanuts that will dissolve in water when you no longer need them.

How about the equipment that quickly become obsolete and we just don't know what to do with it? Staples makes it easy for customers to recycle e-waste by simply bringing their used computers, monitors, laptops and desktop printers, faxes and all-in-ones to any U.S. Staples store. And when it comes to responsibly recycling your paper and plastic articles, in 2007, Staples recycled more than 34,000 tons of cardboard and mixed paper and 300 tons of plastic shrink wrap in the US.

Some people don't even use compact fluorescent lights because they are afraid of the consequences they cause in the landfills. There is a solution for that now. Last year, Home Depot launched a national in-store, consumer compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb recycling program at all 1,973 Home Depot locations. The bulbs will then be managed responsibly by an environmental management company who will coordinate CFL packaging, transportation and recycling to maximize safety and ensure environmental compliance.By putting in action these simple steps, you can free our landfills of a great deal of material and even save some money.

Vera Angelico, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP is an architect that has been certified by The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. This is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. She has been a speaker at PARCEL Forum, Mailcom and the National Conference on Operations & Fulfillment. Vera is currently pursuing her PhD at Rutgers and teaches a graduate course in Sustainable Design. She can be reached at