The Goal of Zero Waste
Zero waste is a goal toward which many communities and businesses have made strides in recent years. This big zero agenda, unlike efforts focused solely on recycling and safe trash disposal, targets trash at its source.
In a zero-waste world, all products would be engineered with their end in mind; their ideal end would be reuse, rather than landfills; and manufacturing techniques would not adversely affect water, air, soil or human beings.
Being a big zero hero, or developing a big zero agenda in order to generate zero waste, might seem like a huge undertaking—but experts, including Stephanie Barger, founder and executive director of the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council, emphasize that every effort is worthwhile.
“We call it the journey to zero waste,” Barger said. “Any little step makes a huge difference.”
Big Zero Agenda Item 1: Take Out Your Trash
Barger recommends beginning by taking stock of the problem—which could mean getting your hands a little dirty. “You’ve got to go through your trash cans and see what’s in there and sort it all out,” she said.
Figure out what constitutes 60 percent of your garbage, and brainstorm ways to get rid of it. Many organizations use some version of this simple hierarchy as a guide: Refuse, or eliminate your need for an item; reduce, or use less; reuse; recycle; or rot. When you can, think beyond finding a safe way to dispose of something, to a way you can prevent dealing with the item again.
Big Zero Agenda Item 2: Consider the Source
Look at the consumable massage products you use—oils, creams, aromatherapy supplies—and find out not only their ingredients, but how those products are manufactured. That way you’re supporting companies that support your goal.
“What we try to do as a company, in our small way, is just do the little things,” said Gurukirn Khalsa, national sales manager for Soothing Touch, a New Mexico-based company that manufactures massage-and-spa products.
Among his company’s green efforts are recycling cardboard and metal; contributing expired massage oil to organizations that recycle it for use in diesel engines; using biodegradable packing materials; and conserving water used during the manufacturing process. “We built a large, stainless-steel capture tank [to] recycle our water. In the first year we saved three or four hundred thousand gallons,” Khalsa said. “It’s saved us money and saved resources.”
Carry natural, organic product lines sourced and manufactured in a way that has as little environmental impact as possible, in recyclable containers. Look for minimal packaging that uses recycled postconsumer content. This means some percentage of the material has been used, recycled and reclaimed to make a new product.
Towels and table linens, too, represent a chance to buy from an Earth-friendly source. Because non-organic cotton is grown using a number of pesticides, Barger recommends choosing organic cotton, hemp or other naturally grown fibers, though “you’ll spend a little bit more,” she said.
Don’t forget to double-check the materials and sources of cleansers. Choose natural, chemical-free products for cleaning accessories and laundering linens. If you use a laundry service, make sure detergents are chemical-free and the washing cycle is eco-friendly.
“Most big services, because they want to save money, have highly energy-efficient and water-efficient washers and dryers,” said Barger.
Big Zero Agenda Item 3: Go Non-Disposable
Look around your practice, especially your waiting area, and identify any disposable items you could eliminate. Eliminate your need for the items, and you eliminate the trash they produce.
Bottled water could be replaced with a water cooler and glasses. If you offer coffee or tea, a collection of pretty mugs cuts foam-cup waste and adds a personal touch to your décor.
You can reduce the volume of paper you use by transitioning to online appointment scheduling and electronic SOAP notes. You can also sign up to receive insurance documents, utility bills and other business communications via email. In addition to producing less paper to recycle, this approach cuts time wasted maintaining paper files.
Big Zero Agenda Item 4: Get Creative
No matter how heavy-duty your supplies, there will come a time when their useful life is over; in a zero-waste environment, your strategy is to find another use for them, either in your office or in the community.
If you upgrade your computer system, consider donating the old computers—even non-functioning ones. Many organizations refurbish and upgrade computers for schools, nonprofits and other groups that can’t afford new systems. (Make sure you completely delete private information and client records before getting rid of an office computer.)
Consider empty boxes and containers—how you could reuse them for a different purpose—before tossing them in the recycling bin or trash. For example, Khalsa’s company ends up with a surplus of large, sturdy totes from liquid ingredient shipments. People purchase the containers, clean them and reuse them as water storage tanks in the arid desert of New Mexico.
Think creatively as you strategize. In California, Barger said, a program called Trash for Teachers accepts hard-to-get-rid-of items such as shelving, old furniture and non-recyclable packaging materials, for teachers to use in the classroom or for art projects. Check with schools or art theaters to find out if they can use what you have.
When you replace linens, keep your area’s furry citizens in mind. “One thing most people don’t know is [animal] shelters need lots of blankets and towels,” Barger said. Also, companies such as USAgain, which operates drop boxes across the U.S., can redistribute or recycle textiles too worn or stained to use.
For organic food waste, Barger recommends placing a small compost bin in your office’s kitchen area, out of sight. “Put it under your sink, fill it up, take it to the community garden and they’ll compost it.”
For Big Change, Start Small
Even the most aggressive approach to waste can leave you facing challenges. Not to worry, said Tamara Jercha, founder and president of the National Association of Eco-Friendly Salons & Spas.
“Audit what you’re doing now, and then start looking at some benchmarks of how you can improve,” said Jercha, who holds green-business training seminars for salon and spa professionals. She also recommends making clients aware of your efforts, which is not only good from a public-relations perspective, but might lead to even more positive changes.
“It’s always good to share,” she said. “You never know where you’re going to get your next idea for a solution.”
About the Author
Compiled by Allison Payne, MASSAGE Magazine’s online & associate editor. She wrote “Massage Therapists Play Starring Role in Disney Spa Magic” and “Sitting or Standing, Office Workers Need Massage.”