Managing Your Business’ Special Waste Sustainably

Different industries generate different types of trash, and special waste (used tires, construction debris, oils and grease, toxic chemicals, etc.) creates disposal challenges for some small businesses. Many municipalities collect paper and cardboard, plastic, and glass for recycling, but how does your company manage more complex or hazardous waste?

The Green Business Bureau works with its members to tackle the issue, which can often require creative solutions. For example, Advance Air & Heat Co. of Freetown, Mass., has seen many changes to its industry over the past 25 years, as HVACR (heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration) technology has advanced. Working mostly with commercial and industrial businesses and with publicly owned buildings, Advance Air & Heat’s staff members regularly encounter many different generations of HVACR technology, from mercury-based thermostats to sophisticated electronic building-automation systems.

As a Green Business Bureau Gold-Certified member, Advance Air & Heat seeks to manage the diverse special waste of its clients as sustainably as possible, seeking resources and implementing programs to properly process it. For instance, the company recommends the installation of programmable thermostats as a means to help achieve energy-conversation goals. These thermostats often replace older units that contain mercury, a dangerous toxin that can pollute groundwater and soil when incorrectly discarded. To ensure safe disposal, Advance Air & Heat works with Covanta Energy to collect devices that contain mercury (thermostats, thermometers, fluorescent bulbs, etc.) and deliver them to a local recycling facility on a regular basis.

Many resources exist to help small businesses collect and properly dispose of dangerous waste, from heavy metals to electronics. To find a recycling partner for your industry’s special waste, search the 1-800-Recycling.com database for programs or facilities in your area. If there isn’t a local option, programs like RecyclePak by Veolia Environmental Services can provide you with what you need to meet your special-waste management needs, from collection receptacles to certificates confirming that the waste was processed appropriately.

For working equipment, Advance Air & Heat has also found opportunities to work with community partners to recycle, refurbish, or reuse older electronics. Organizations like Cell Phones for Soldiers collect donated mobile phones for members of the military to call home, and many school districts and nonprofit groups accept working computers and printers. If your business is upgrading your office or communications equipment, consider reaching out to an organization that might benefit from reuse of older technology. (Tip: Make sure to work with your staff to delete private information from hard drives and contact lists from phones before donating.)

Finally, recognize that some special waste may be in demand by other businesses. Advance Air & Heat collects copper piping, ductwork, and other metals as part of HVACR renovation projects. Scrap-metal values have been climbing steadily for several years, making resale to scrap dealers a profitable way to recycle. Examine your business waste stream to see what “outputs” might be an “input” for other industries. Closing these material resource loops is a win for both the environment and for your business’s bottom line.

Regardless of your industry, the responsible and effective management of special waste is an excellent way to promote the environmental health and safety of your workplace and your community while also supporting great causes and even adding to your company’s profit.

Does your business has a unique way of managing its special waste? Please share it with us in the Comments field below.

About Marcos Cordero

Marcos J. Cordero is the co-founder and CEO of the Green Business Bureau, a leading green business certification organization that helps small and mid-sized businesses implement sustainability practices.
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