Thursday, February 1, 2018

What Does Zero Really Mean?

Today I noticed this statement on a Lipton teabag, just beneath the little pictographs showing me how long and at what temperature to steep my tea, as if it were part of the brewing instructions: "This product is packed in a zero-landfill facility."

Which, of course, led me to ask, what exactly is a zero-landfill facility?

It's first important to distinguish the claim of "zero waste" from the claim of "zero waste to landfill." Both sound good, right? But, you could accumulate heaps of trash in your yard and just burn it all, and none of it will have gone to a landfill. And so maybe some of it was wasted--items that could have been reused or recycled or composted. Not to mention the toxic fumes.

OK, so when a company touts its "zero-landfill facility," how good should I feel about it? Are they truly making environmentally friendly improvements in their waste management, or are they just burning their trash on site? Sending interns on illicit river dumps in the middle of the night?

And so I Googled.

It appears Lipton's Suffolk, Virginia, manufacturing plant achieved their "zero-landfill" badge in 2009, with 70% of their waste (cardboard and paper in particular) being traditionally recycled or reused, thanks to 100 employees designated Recycling Champions who sift through and sort it all, and 22% of it (tea dust, tea bag strings) being composted and used as mulch or fertilizer on their own grounds. The remaining 8%, in partnership with public service, "is converted into usable energy that is put back into the local power grid."

The article I was reading didn't get into details about that conversion, but it has to be combustion, right?

Still, that's some green tea.

I wonder what other companies' waste breakdowns look like? More Googling, I guess.

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