We separate whites and colors when doing laundry. We store frozen food in the freezer and everything else in the pantry or refrigerator. To recycle, we know plastics must be separated from glass, which must be separated from newspapers. We know "waste" goes in a dumpster, which eventually ends up in a landfill. However, what if the items discarded into the dumpster had more life? What if we redefined "waste," and moreover, what we did with all of our left-over "stuff?"
There are examples around the world of people recalibrating the definition of "waste." In the United States, Freegans "dumpster dive" for their food and other disposed consumer items. Even further along the spectrum, Dharavi slum dwellers in Mumbai, India take recycling to a whole new level by scouring the local dumps for even the smallest item that can be reused or resold. Some are rebelling against a consumer-driven, wasteful society, whereas others struggle to make a living in a society that provides little other opportunities. Both have adjusted what society defines as waste.While many efforts are underway to steer America away from its wasteful ways, we still have a long road ahead of us. In 1960, Americans recycled just six percent of all consumer goods. Today, we recycle about 31 percent.
Businesses are expected to adhere to the same practices, particularly given the amount of recyclable goods and waste streaming from daily operations. While operations to implement and advance programs to reduce, reuse, and recycle have proliferated; a key component of sustainable growth will be to recalibrate how we define and what we do with waste.
Business Roundtable members are realizing not only the cost-savings, but the earnings potential by moving away from a "throw it away" to a "use it again" society. Coined as "advanced recycling" or "remanufacturing," Business Roundtable member companies such as Caterpillar are at the forefront of new business operations and approaches that demonstrate how sustainable practices can positively impact the environment and their business.
A leading global company, Caterpillar is committed to driving positive and sustainable change around the world. For more than 30 years, their remanufacturing division, Cat Reman has demonstrated how remanufacturing and environmental responsibility leads to profitability and positive change.
For example, Caterpillar has implemented aggressive recycling initiatives for all waste streams—including wood pallets, cardboard, and other packaging materials. As a result, waste streams have been minimized to the point that the company's Mississippi facilities are virtually "zero landfill" operations. In fact, the only solid waste sent to the landfill from the Mississippi remanufacturing facilities comes from the employee cafeteria — not the factory.
By focusing on total lifecycle management, Caterpillar is a strong example of a business thriving in a sustainable market. Business Roundtable supports innovative efforts like advanced recycling and encourages members, other businesses and consumers to recalibrate their definition of waste. Action-oriented practices like these will maintain our economic advantage and create a sustainable future.