Sometimes, the challenge of reducing or eliminating waste can seem overwhelming. Even if you diligently sort your recycling at home and attempt to choose low-packaging items at the supermarket, it can be dispiriting when you think about the wave of waste threatening the planet and harming the environment.

But as a procurement professional, your impact can be enormous. It depends on where you work: many industrial processes have the potential to produce hazardous waste, while certain sectors (energy, construction, agriculture, fashion, and transport) generate more waste than others. Keep in mind that waste doesn’t just refer to chemical runoff or mountains of plastic; it can also be everyday items like wasted electricity or printer paper at the office.

According to UN Habitat, the global population produces approximately 2.1 billion to 2.3 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste annually. The alarming levels of waste pollution pose significant threats to human well-being, economic progress, and exacerbate the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. If immediate action is not taken, the yearly generation of municipal solid waste is projected to reach a staggering 3.8 billion tonnes by 2050.

Procurement's role in achieving zero waste

March 30th is International Day of Zero Waste, a UN Initiative designed to raise awareness of “national, subnational, regional, and local zero-waste initiatives and their contribution to achieving sustainable development.” This means that now is a great time to rethink procurement practices and embrace sustainability principles, to minimize waste, unlock environmental benefits, and save money.

Here are some tips for doing so.


International Day of Zero Waste is push from the UN designed to raise awareness of zero-waste initiatives at a local, regional and national level. Procurement plays a vital role in embracing sustainability practices that help achieve zero waste.


Choose suppliers with sustainability in mind

Sourcing heroes have a unique opportunity to influence sustainability efforts right from the start by carefully selecting suppliers. Evaluate potential suppliers based on their environmental practices and commitment to waste reduction by considering renewable energy practices, resource-efficient manufacturing processes, and waste reduction initiatives. Collaborating with suppliers who share the vision of zero waste allows businesses to align their procurement practices with broader sustainability goals.

Beware of greenwashing when choosing suppliers. Most organizations today will have some inspirational words on their website about their focus on sustainability, but this isn’t enough. Ask to see verifiable reports, third-party audits, and certifications.

Emphasize circular economy principles

Embracing the principles of a circular economy is essential for a zero waste procurement strategy. Instead of the traditional linear model of “take-make-dispose,” a circular economy focuses on reducing waste by maximizing resource usage and minimizing environmental impact. Procurement can contribute by favoring suppliers that prioritize product longevity, repairability, and recyclability. By procuring goods and services designed with these principles in mind, organizations can extend the lifespan of products, reduce waste generation, and promote the reuse and recycling of materials.

You may have heard of the “Three R’s” – Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle – but it’s important to understand that this is a hierarchy. In other words, reducing the amount of waste you produce in the first place has a much higher impact than reusing or recycling items.

Collaboration and supplier engagement

Procurement teams can drive zero waste initiatives by actively collaborating with suppliers to identify opportunities for waste reduction. This can involve joint brainstorming sessions, sharing best practices, and exploring innovative solutions to common challenges. Engaging suppliers in the sustainability conversation can yield valuable insights and foster a sense of shared responsibility. Establishing clear communication channels and performance metrics enables ongoing feedback and evaluation of waste reduction efforts.

Determine the best approach to engage suppliers. Some will respond positively to waste reduction initiatives because it’s the right thing to do, while others will only be motivated by a threat to end the relationship unless they take action to slash their waste.

Promote sustainable packaging

Packaging waste is a significant contributor to overall waste generation. Procurement can play a vital role in minimizing this impact by prioritizing suppliers that offer sustainable and innovative packaging solutions. This includes opting for recyclable or compostable materials and reducing excessive packaging.

Additionally, exploring innovative packaging alternatives, such as biodegradable materials or reusable packaging systems, can significantly reduce waste volumes. By actively seeking out sustainable packaging options, you can contribute to your organization's zero waste goals while enhancing brand reputation and meeting consumer expectations for eco-friendly practices.


Get inspired by Subaru

Did you know that nothing has gone to landfill at Subaru’s Indiana manufacturing facility since 2005? Despite producing nearly one million vehicles per year, the company has achieved zero waste by diligently tracking its waste production using barcodes. It sends materials – even waste oil and paint sludge – to other departments and facilities for recycling and repurposing. The less than 5% of waste that can’t be reused or recycled is incinerated for energy.

How is your organization working towards zero waste? Does procurement have an active role in helping achieve your goals? Check out Una's other resources dedicated to sustainability here.