Food leftovers as worm bedding? At a DuPont warehouse in Lockport, N.Y., cafeteria waste is turned into compost that's used for its landscaping.
At other DuPont facilities, shipping pallets are repaired or shred into chips to make animal bedding, and scrap pieces of Corian are recycled into new countertops or used as landscape stone. Food waste that's not composted is turned into energy.
DuPont Building Innovations, which makes countertops and Tyvek building wrap, announced earlier this month that — within three years — it has slashed the annual amount of waste it sends to landfills from 81 million pounds to zero. Yes, zero.
"It's good for our business," both its bottom line and public image, says spokeswoman Patty Seif.
What was a nascent zero-landfill movement a few years ago in Corporate America is mushrooming into a common strategy to save money and boost environmental credibility. Every month, a wider array of companies reports zero or near-zero landfill status, following automakers such as Subaru that have led the way.
Now, the U.S. Army is joining their ranks. While it already seeks to recycle 100% of electronics, the Army picked eight installations last April that will use existing funds to try to achieve zero-landfill status overall by 2020.
"It's a big goal," says Kristine Kingery, director of the Army's sustainability policy. She says it may not be cost-effective to hit 100%, so "if we get to 95%, that's success." Currently, she says all Army facilities divert an average of 73% of construction debris and just under 40% of non-hazardous solid waste from landfills.
Municipal efforts are also underway. In December, the city council in eco-friendly Austin approved a plan that aims to reduce by 90% the amount of trash sent to landfills by 2030. The city will set up reuse centers, phase in mandatory composting and test programs to recycle items such as carpets and mattresses.
"The idea of zero waste is a breakthrough," says Joel Makower of GreenBiz.com, a company that covers business' environmental efforts Only 20 to 30 years ago, he says, people fretted about mountains of waste and garbage-laden barges with nowhere to go.
Now, he says zero-landfill is a frequent goal for savvy companies. He says it reflects not only how much the environmental movement has changed but also how far business has come in aligning its goals with that movement. He notes the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, has committed to zero waste but is not quite there yet.