Consider this: taking your business into the green

Waste in all its shapes and forms defiles our highways, byways, and roadways. We’ve got to act now to reverse the problems of plastic-filled oceans, dirty drinking water, and expanses of landfill. Photojournalist Kadir van Lohuizen said it starkly in the 2017 Washington Post article, Drowning in garbage: “The world produces more than 3.5 million tons of garbage a day – and that figure is growing.” The article goes on to ask the question, “Is this just garbage, or is it a resource?”

Good question, especially in light of the growing mounds of trash collected in the U.S. alone. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website article, National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Wastes and Recycling, nearly 268 million tons of municipal solid waste, or waste consumers discard, were collected in 2017 alone. That’s the equivalent of 4.51 pounds of trash per person each day. Of that, the EPA reports:

  • Paper products collected amounted to 67 million tons
  • Plastics contributed more than 35 million tons
  • Yard refuse made up just over 35 million tons
  • Food accounted for about 24 million tons
  • Rubber, leather, textiles combined equaled nearly 22 million tons
  • Consumer electronics –computer equipment, telephones, video cameras, TVs, VCR and DVD players, and stereos – contributed 2.8 million tons

About 94 million tons were recycled or composted. That’s around 1.6 pounds for each person every day. Over 34 million tons were combusted for energy recovery. More than 52 percent – 139 million tons – were simply landfilled.

Whether or not it makes a difference to recycle what your small business discards

But with all that material recycled, composted, or deposited in junkpiles, in running my small business do I even generate enough trash to be concerned about rapidly filling landfills, or even climate change? Will I make a difference if I take my business into the green zone by recycling or reusing my discards?

Trash from landfills is a bigger problem than simply being unsightly and smelling up the neighborhoods where they’re located. Chemicals leak from the piles of refuse and wind up in the groundwater supply. Methane gas – a lot of it – escapes from landfills’ decomposing trash and traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. That makes it a contributing factor of global warming. Our planet is turning brown and human activity is at least partly to blame.

But concern over global warming as a problem doesn’t even rank in the top ten top issues in people’s minds. The Pew Research Center found that just about four in ten U.S. registered voters felt climate change was among the nation’s top problems.

While some doubt whether global warming is occurring, shouldn’t we err on the side of caution and work to reduce our impact on the Earth? It’s what our kids ask of us – to leave a legacy of a world capable of providing a decent quality of life for those who will inherit it.

Only four in every ten voters are concerned enough about global warming to make it an election issue, but more than 70 percent of Americans think it is indeed happening. So say investigators in a 2019 study from Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communications.  They also found:

  • Six in ten believe global warming chiefly results from human activities.
  • Two in every three surveyed are worried; three in ten are very worried.
  • Sixty-seven percent believe global warming is important to them personally.

Clearly, the majority of Americans see global warming as a threat that must be dealt with. If combating climate change is to happen in the home, businesses large and small should lead the way. We entrepreneurs ought to operate our businesses in ways that help lessen environmental impacts.

How sustainability fits in with environmental concerns

Environmentalism is one of the key components of sustainability. The United Nations defines sustainability as: “… development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” And people worldwide are dedicated to caring for the environment and taking actions to positively impact humanity and the ecosystems in which they live.

In a Business Insider article, Sustainability sells: Why consumers and clothing brands alike are turning to sustainability as a guiding light, writer Remi Rosmarin argues that many consumers choose products that proclaim social responsibility: “People buy designer bags not only because they like the style, but because of the message they tell the world when they're holding one …”

The same article quotes Dr. Matt Johnson, a professor at Hult International Business School and creator of the blog Pop Neuro, “‘We may buy a Prius (at least in part) because it is a purchase reliably associated with environmental consciousness, and we want to signal that we're environmentally conscious.’”

According to Inc.com, 66 percent of consumers worldwide will pay more for products made sustainably. Of that, 73 percent of Millennials will open their wallets for products made with the environment in mind.

Using your business to help reduce the rapidly accumulating load of trash

We entrepreneurs have a responsibility to operate our businesses sustainably. So what are we to do with all the waste we generate? What can we do to help ensure a greener planet? Sellers of retail products can give their customers a choice between products made with the future in mind or their cheaper and not so sustainably made cousins. But what of our trash? All businesses, even those that are service-based, generate at least some trash.

What do we recycle anyway, and how do we do it? The Environmental Protection Agency’s webpage, How Do I Recycle? Common Recyclables lists several types of trash – paper, plastics, glass, batteries, used oil, and tires – and options available to dispose of them responsibly. That’s a good start, but there’s nothing said of getting rid of old electronics. Best Buy takes in those, but only from individual consumers, not businesses.

Recycling electronics, while difficult, is possible

E-waste, or discarded electrical and electronic products, is in a category by itself when it comes to recyclables. Discarded electronics contain harmful materials like arsenic; the carcinogenic beryllium; cadmium, that once accumulated in the body can affect your kidneys and weaken your bone structure; and lead, a neurotoxin with a long list of harmful effects. We generate lots of e-waste, and if it’s not disposed of or recycled properly, it can become a deathtrap to both humans and the environment.

Thankfully, there are outlets for recycling old electronics. The nonprofit organization SERI has a website listing e-waste recycling centers worldwide.

Facilities that take other types of recyclables

Material recovery facilities or MRFs, which appear to be quite prevalent in the United States, will take a variety of discarded materials: ferrous metal, aluminum, and paper, for example. Some will take non-sorted, dirty discards, while others prefer materials that are sorted by type. Many facilities offer pickup services and provide containers for it.

To find nearby MRFs, I simply ran an internet search for material recovery facility locations and found two, even given my rural location. My search also located the 2019 Map & List of North America’s Largest MRFs.

Do it for the kids

Kids today are rightly demanding that we take care of our planet and leave it capable of providing a good standard of living. We must reduce our carbon footprint and discontinue other pollution-causing activities our modern lifestyles impose upon the Earth. That’s why we all should carefully choose the products we use and sell. And reduce, reuse, and recycle whenever possible.

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