White Papers

Managing Waste Streams to Mitigate Risk and Uncover New Opportunities

How to Avoid Throwing Away Brands with the Trash


Personal experiences with brands and the stories told about them in the media and through social networks shape perceptions of brands and affect consumers’ responses to them. Consciously or subconsciously, they label brands “good” or “bad” according to what they perceive.

Francis Gurry, general director of World Intellectual Property Organization, writes, “Brands…are an indispensable guide for consumers and a means for companies to build a reputation and an image in the marketplace. A product’s brand appeal can be as important for determining competitive success as its quality or price tag. A recognized brand is among the most valuable intangible assets a company can own.”

It is no wonder businesses are eager to protect their brands and the equity they have built in their reputations. Branding investments in 2016 stood at USD $595 billion and accounted for over 60% of intangible asset investments in the United States. It’s anticipated that brand spending will increase to over $740 billion by 2020.

Most businesses don’t utter the words “brand” and “waste stream” in the same breath or give much thought to the connection between brands and trash. Businesses invest heavily – both in money and effort – in their brands because they recognize the value of this asset. Yet, few consider the interconnectivity and potential threats to their brands that exist in their waste streams; and thus, many do not take steps to protect themselves. They literally risk throwing away their brands with the trash!

This white paper will highlight three primary risks to brands that are inherent in waste streams as well as identifying the best practices for mitigating these threats and uncovering new revenue – and reputation – building opportunities.

Risk 1:

Inconsistencies Between Sustainability Claims and Brand Identity

It is one thing to tout corporate sustainability goals and commitment to the environment on a company web site, in press releases and advertisements, and another to implement those promises every day at the local level. When an organization’s sustainability claims and reality are inconsistent with one another, employee and consumer trust erodes and brand perception is threatened.

Consider a coffee house brand that publicly committed to recycling its coffee grounds by making them available to consumers for free so they could repurpose the grounds as fertilizer or compost. The brand publicly demonstrated its commitment to sustainability, its coffee houses could dispose of spent beans at no cost; and, consumers benefited by receiving free grounds and participating in good environmental stewardship. However, the reality at one of the brand’s retail locations was that coffee grounds were regularly being discarded each night.

Was the brand purposely misleading the public? Were employees opposed to the corporate policy? The disparity between what the company stated and what was actually happening in one of its locations was the result of something much less sinister – it was a symptom of supply and demand. The coffee house was simply producing far more coffee grounds than it could give away or sell each day and, for sanitation and health reasons, could not accumulate and store the grounds on site so employees were forced to throw them away. Unfortunately, the brand also was throwing away – or at least undermining – its credibility with employees and consumers alike. The brand was claiming one thing and doing another. In a world where local stories and isolated incidents can quickly become national news via social media, it was risking its reputation which we all know, once lost, impacts business results.

Strong internal communications and follow-through are essential to mitigating risk across their organizations to all employees from the C-suite to individual retail locations. Processes, training, signage, receptacles – each should clearly support sustainability initiatives. The most successful companies anticipate challenges, keep the lines of communication open and develop contingency plans and work-arounds to ensure that they meet the sustainability commitments they have made to consumers and employees and that they are in compliance with all local and national regulations. With regard to public perception and the reputation of their brands, they know that ignorance is not an excuse and inconsistency is not acceptable.

Are You Using “Red Flag” Claims?


Risk 2:

Negative Environmental Impacts, Missed Opportunities

Raw material counts, finished goods inventory levels, sourcing, production and distribution spend totals, individual store sales – organizations have access to all of this data and make business decisions based on analysis of these facts. Ask them for this level of detail about their waste streams and chances are good that most do not have it.

What happens to packaging, supplies and food waste when they leave businesses? Where do they end up? Are waste materials disposed of domestically or shipped overseas where children could be involved in their sorting? Are materials dumped illegally or in such a way as to pose an environmental hazard? Could discarded material be leveraged by competitors to uncover proprietary information? Without line of sight into where their waste is sent and how it is processed and disposed of, organizations open their brands to risk.

They are losing revenue opportunities too. A waste characterization audit can help brands recover valuable recycling commodities (and the revenue these afford) and reduce total waste volume (for greater cost savings). Consider restaurant waste streams where approximately 30 percent to 40 percent of total volume in the stream is organic food waste. That volume makes up 50 percent to 60 percent of waste stream weight. Since haulers and recyclers charge by weight, removing food waste from restaurant waste streams would have a positive environmental impact in terms of reduced greenhouse gas emissions, less energy and water consumption and better use of resources. It would also save brands money since they would not be paying haulers to transport food waste to landfill. Data mining and analytics also afford brands opportunities to highlight their sustainability efforts to consumers, who want to feel good about the businesses they support and know that they are choosing environmentally responsible brands.

Waste Diversion Opportunities to Protect Your Brand


Risk 3:

Businesses May be Breaking the Law and Not Know It

There are a plethora of laws regulating waste disposal throughout the United States. National brands often adopt a unified approach to operating their businesses. Each one of a large retail chain’s locations is likely to function similarly, with employees following the same processes and serving customers in a manner consistent with their colleagues located four states away. But, state and municipal waste disposal and recycling regulations are not consistent.

For instance, in two states, plastic bag bans are slated to take effect soon. What will that mean for businesses? What type of education campaign must businesses launch to communicate with employees and customers? Meanwhile, a municipality has adopted a mandatory organics diversion program that will impact all foodservice businesses, including restaurants and bars, in its jurisdiction. There also may be unspoken rules pertaining to recycling and waste that are specific to certain cities and areas of the country. These may not be legally mandated, but expectations among local residents drive compliance.

Businesses need to stay abreast of such changing legislation to ensure compliance and protect themselves from fines as well as damage to their reputations. Tracking various initiatives, legislation and deadlines is challenging, but so too is implementing training, processes and signage across multiple locations and to multiple stakeholders to ensure acquiescence. A service provider with expertise in waste management and sustainability and insight across the supply chain can help businesses stay ahead of growing regulatory demands and plan accordingly for their implementation.

Individual States and Cities can Create Recycling Goals or Landfill Bans of Recyclable Materials.


Currently in the U.S., there are no federal laws regarding recycling. That’s why it’s vital you work with a company that can help you monitor these changes!


Key Learnings

A brand’s reputation is earned over time, but can be lost in an instant if customers and employees have reason to doubt a brand’s authenticity. Organizations must say what they mean and mean what they say across their entire supply chain – from factory or farm to customer through product end of life – or face the consequences of their capriciousness.

Organizations that recognize the value of their waste streams and safeguard them accordingly with end-to-end oversight will ensure protection of their brands in the process. Successful brands:

  • Communicate sustainability goals clearly and consistently to all stakeholders and provide training, tools and support to operating channels so that what is being promoted at the corporate level and touted in external communications is what employees and customers experience at the retail level.
  • Know what goes into and moves out of their waste streams and where those resources go. They analyze this information in the same way they analyze information gathered elsewhere across their supply chains and make business decisions based on historic and predictive analysis of the data.
  • Find alternative recycling options to limit waste to landfill and environmental impacts; reduce their waste spend, promote their efforts to consumers and investors, and even uncover new revenuegenerating opportunities through commoditization of waste.
  • Stay ahead of regional, national and global regulations regarding waste disposal and recycling and plan accordingly to ensure compliance.
About Us

Recycling & Waste Solutions (RWS) provides the nation’s largest supply chains with innovative managed solutions for commodity recycling and waste services that reduce cost, drive commodity revenue and improve overall services through flawless execution. Managing thousands of locations with hundreds of thousands of work order requests takes proven tools and dedicated resources. RWS knows the full corporate value of sustainable environmental and economic waste solutions.

For more information, please visit www.rwsfacilityservices.com.


  1. http://www.wipo.int/edocs/pubdocs/en/intproperty/944/wipo_pub_944_2013.pdf
  2. https://www.ana.net/content/show/id/39647
  3. https://archive.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/web/html
  4. https://earth911.com/business-policy/landfill-bans
  5. https://www.brit.co/how-to-spot-false-eco-friendly-labels