Getting to Zero Waste at Southface

Ward (far right) and teammates conducting Southface’s trash sort

Increasingly, consumers, corporations, and cities are waking the sleeping giant that is plastic pollution, as a recent spate of corporate and municipal bans on single use plastic items like plastic straws and bags make global headlines. According to the United Nations Environment, about 60 percent of the more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced since the early 1950s has ended up in a landfill or the natural environment. Researchers estimate that ocean plastic pollution kills 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals each year.

As plastic and other pollution piles up, the environmental problem may seem insurmountable. However, everyone – from multinational companies to private citizens – can do their part to protect the planet by reducing waste and stopping trash before it starts.

As part of its mission to demonstrate responsible resource use, Southface is working to become a 100 percent zero waste organization. Helping to lead that charge is Southface Facilities Manager Stephen Ward. In pursuing a zero waste campus, Ward organized a trash sort of a week’s worth of waste at Southface. As a result of the trash sort, we now have a much better understanding of where we thrive and areas on which we can improve.

“What better way to use resources responsibly than by ensuring everything that we no longer need to operate our business here at Southface can have a useful life somewhere else,” said Ward.

Gleaning knowledge from its trash sort, Southface wants to eliminate improperly discarded recyclables, like this un-rinsed plastic container.

Being a zero waste organization is not simply about diverting waste from landfills. Instead, it is a great exercise in how we understand our place as consumers in society. It’s a process that will take time to achieve, and we are in the early stages of learning what zero waste truly entails.

Going zero waste challenges organizations’ current business habits on both the procurement and diversion end. Usually it is difficult to change purchasing or waste habits if it’s too costly, too inconvenient, or both. We are rethinking our habits to make better decisions, in order to operate more sustainably.

The first step is preventing unnecessary items from going in the trash. Southface purchases items that have the highest recyclable value, and when those items are no longer needed, they’re recycled or composted. The goal is to ensure that everything the Southface office acquires can be reused in some form, and that absolutely nothing goes unused – and therefore, wasted.

“Businesses should start on the road to zero waste now,” Ward said. “Waste elimination is everywhere in business, and the less waste you have, the more efficient your operations.”

As the zero waste journey continues for Southface, we found an opportunity to share our insight with others who want to bring sustainability to their office or home. Through an awareness initiative called #TalkTrash, we are showing others how easy it is to take small steps toward a greener planet, with free resources, expert tips and insight, and more.

#TalkTrash is a great way to not only improve your business’ activities, it also empowers you to rethink waste in your personal life. Imagine if you and your co-workers took what you’ve learned and implemented that into your homes. Then shared it with your friends, and they made changes too. Then the businesses you shopped at changed their practices. This type of small yet positive behavioral change resonates outward, to create large impacts that benefit the planet.

Take the pledge to #TalkTrash with Southface and get free resources like signage, tip sheets and more. Learn more at


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