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The Top 3 Ways Waste Transportation Contributes to Your Business’ Carbon Footprint

Every business decision you make carries a profound impact – both on your bottom line and the world around us. One area that’s often overlooked in business operations is waste transportation, despite the significant role it plays in our environmental footprint. That’s why today we’re exploring the three primary ways that waste transportation contributes to your company’s carbon footprint.

As business leaders, you’re tasked with the challenges of enhancing operational efficiency, driving innovation, and promoting sustainable growth. But alongside these objectives also stands the corporate responsibility to reduce your business’ carbon footprint. Businesses across all sectors contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions, with waste transportation often being a significant yet unnoticed component. The logistics involved in moving waste from point A to point B, including the energy consumed and the emissions produced, all add to your organization’s overall carbon footprint.

In the following sections, we’ll delve into the intricacies of waste transportation, unveiling how it adds to your business’s carbon footprint and providing actionable insights on what you can do about it. Let’s dive in.

The Connection Between Waste Transportation and Your Business’ Carbon Footprint

First, we’ll start with some quick definitions: 

  • Carbon footprint – The total amount of greenhouse gasses, including carbon dioxide and methane, that are generated by an organization’s actions. This metric is usually measured in tons of CO2 emitted per year. 
  • Waste transportation – The logistics of moving waste from its place of generation (e.g., your business premises) to various destinations including recycling centers, composting sites, or landfills.

The link between waste transportation and your carbon footprint lies in three main areas:

  • Energy consumption during transportation: Moving waste from one place to another requires a significant amount of energy, typically in the form of fuel for the transport vehicles. This energy consumption inevitably leads to the production of greenhouse gasses. A study by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that transportation was the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., contributing 29% of total emissions in 2021.
  • Emissions from transportation vehicles: Most waste transportation relies on diesel-powered trucks that emit a range of greenhouse gasses, including CO2 and methane. The UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimated that heavy goods vehicles like waste transportation trucks contributed 19% of the UK’s total CO2 emissions from road transport in 2020.
  • Carbon footprint of waste treatment facilities: The destination of the waste also plays a role in your business’ carbon footprint. Landfills, for example, are significant sources of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. According to the EPA, municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills accounted for approximately 14.3% of human-related methane emissions in the U.S. in 2021.

To see this in real-world terms, consider the case study of the city of Toronto. A municipal report found that waste sector emissions, primarily from landfills, made up nearly 9% of community-wide emissions in 2019. This was primarily due to the long distances that waste had to travel from the city to the disposal sites, emphasizing the significant impact that waste transportation can have on a carbon footprint. In the next sections, we’ll explore effective strategies to reduce these emissions and move towards a more sustainable future.

Assessing Your Business’ Waste Transportation Carbon Footprint

Assessing the carbon footprint of your business, especially the part attributed to waste transportation, is an integral step toward becoming a more sustainable organization. It provides a benchmark to gauge your environmental impact and helps identify areas where you can cut emissions.

The assessment process involves several steps:

  1. Data Collection: Gather data on the amount of waste your business produces (through waste assessments), the distance it travels for disposal, and the type of vehicle(s) used for transportation. This information forms the backbone of your carbon footprint assessment.
  2. Emission Calculation: Use this data to calculate the greenhouse gasses emitted. The emissions from waste transportation are often calculated in terms of CO2 equivalents, which aggregate all greenhouse gasses into one measurable unit. The EPA provides a formula for this calculation: Emissions = Activity Data x Emission Factor.

For waste transportation, the activity data encompasses the fuel consumption or miles driven by the transport vehicle, while the emission factor represents the average emission rate of a pollutant for a particular source relative to units of activity (for example, grams of CO2 emitted per gallon of diesel burned).

  1. Analysis & Reporting: Analyze the results of your calculations and report your findings. Once you identify which part of your waste management process is contributing most to your carbon footprint, you can create a targeted action plan.

There are several tools available to help with this process:

  • Carbon Footprint Calculators: Online calculators like the one offered by the CoolClimate Network at UC Berkeley can give you an estimate of your business’ carbon footprint based on the input data.
  • Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Software: These tools go a step further by assessing the environmental impact of a product or service throughout its entire life cycle, from raw material extraction to end-of-life disposal. Two examples of LCA software are OpenLCA and SimaPro.

The first step toward reducing your carbon footprint is understanding where your emissions are coming from. This will equip you and your team with the necessary data to make informed decisions that benefit both your business and the environment.

Strategies to Reduce the Carbon Footprint from Waste Transportation

Reducing your business’ carbon footprint associated with waste transportation is not only beneficial for the planet but also makes good business sense. Here are some actionable strategies to help you achieve this:

  • Switching to Green Transportation Alternatives. Transitioning to lower-emission or zero-emission vehicles can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of your waste transportation. Electric or hybrid vehicles produce fewer emissions per mile than traditional diesel trucks and are being incorporated into many businesses’ sustainability plans.
  • Implementing Efficient Waste Management Practices. Reducing the amount of waste your business produces in the first place can also minimize the need for waste transportation. This can be achieved through waste prevention, reduction, recycling, and reusing initiatives. For example, Google’s Zero Waste to Landfill program aims to divert at least 90% of waste from landfills through these methods, minimizing the need for long-haul transportation.
  • Collaborating with Environmentally Friendly Waste Disposal Companies: Partnering with waste disposal and recycling companies like CheckSammy that prioritize eco-friendly practices can help reduce your waste transportation carbon footprint. These companies may use state-of-the-art technologies to reduce emissions, adopt renewable energy sources, or have programs to offset their carbon output.
  • Investing in Carbon Offset Programs: If you can’t eliminate all emissions from your waste transportation, consider investing in carbon offset programs. These programs balance out your carbon emissions by funding projects that reduce CO2 emissions elsewhere, like reforestation or renewable energy projects. 

Let’s look at some successful examples:

  • Unilever. By improving the efficiency of their transport operations, such as using double-decker trucks and reducing distance traveled, Unilever was able to improve CO2 efficiency by 40% in 2020.
  • Walmart. By using a comprehensive waste diversion program, including recycling and donating unsold products, Walmart diverted 82% of its waste from landfills in the U.S. in 2020, reducing the need for waste transportation and its associated emissions.

These strategies provide a starting point for your business to operate more sustainably, reduce costs, and enhance your brand image as an eco-conscious organization.

Making a Difference in Your Business’ Carbon Footprint

Waste transportation significantly contributes to your business’ carbon footprint through energy consumed during transportation, emissions from transportation vehicles, and the carbon footprint of landfills and waste treatment facilities.

Assessing your organization’s waste transportation carbon footprint is an essential step towards sustainability, and there are numerous tools and resources available to help with this process. If you’re looking for a partner in your business’ recycling efforts, CheckSammy can help. Contact us today to learn more.

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