Adolph Coors of Coors Brewing Co. famously said, “All waste is lost profit.” I doubt he said that solely because he cared for the environment, but it’s the truth: Waste is a waste. You pay for it on both ends — to get it and to get rid of it.

Not many of us think of our waste this way. We think of it as something of little value that we throw away and forget about. Yet what we are throwing away could be an opportunity to save or even make money.

In the market today, there is a lot of buzz about “zero waste.” I have been involved in a number of these programs and the definition itself has many believing that “zero waste” means you can never get rid of anything. Not so, zero waste is about utilization of 100 percent of what you don’t want by recycling, reusing or diverting it from landfill (which can both make and save you money).

My grandmother stood by the philosophy that “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Zero waste epitomizes that. Find out what excess materials you have and get someone to take it off your hands. This isn’t selling ice to Eskimos; there are many businesses across the U.S. scrambling to get access to the kind of resources you are getting rid of — be it cardboard, paper, pallets, plastic, electronics, chemicals, metal, wood, textiles, stone or just about any other byproduct. It is likely that someone out there somewhere wants what you have.

So the questions are: What do you have? How do you find someone that wants it? And what’s it worth to you to divert it instead of trashing it?

First, one of the best ways to learn what it is you’re wasting is to get up close and personal with your waste: Climb into your dumpster and see what you have. But don’t go it alone — take your staff along with you. Companies are using dumpster dives as an annual exercise in which staff sift through the company garbage to understand what and how much they are wasting. It is a great way to access risk, understand your impact, educate about lost profit and find financial opportunities.

In an office setting, you will likely find that most of your waste is paper. Actually, about 72 percent of it is, according to the New York State Department of Labor. The average office prints 31 pages per employee per day, a 2010 study by Ipsos and Lexmark found in the U.K.

In your dumpster dive, you might be stunned by the amount of paper and realize that much of it was printed frivolously. In that case, recycling what you produce might be a good way to reduce your impact on the environment. Though, in some cases, a recycling company might actually charge you to recycle it. There is a silver lining to this problem: Show your employees — now huddled around your dumpster —how much waste is created and empower your people to use less. Printing less paper and consuming less ink means more money in your company coffer and a smaller dumpster out back.

A great example of this is from a company here in Phoenix. Park Howell from Park&Co. has recently created an initiative in which each employee receives a ream of paper to use for printing purposes for the year. When the paper is gone, the employee must campaign and make a case to the office as to why they should receive another package of paper. In your office, one ream per year might not be possible so figure out an appropriate ration. I can guarantee over at Park&Co. this disruptive change is making employees more aware of their impact and waste and the company is going to save some money.

If you are not in a conventional office setting (maybe you are a manufacturer, warehouse or a restaurant), you might find a diverse blend of waste that you produce when performing a dumpster dive. Categorize the resources and call local recycling, asset recovery companies or use an online resource like RecycleMatch, which is an online marketplace that connects companies to purchase/swap resources that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill. In these instances, not only do you have the opportunity to recover money from a waste stream, you will likely reduce your waste hauling costs as well by downsizing your dumpsters or pickup frequency.

Take it from my grandmother: Get out your pirate eye patch and hat, grab your staff and head out to your dumpster for a treasure hunt.

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