Zero Waste Certification

Certify your company’s waste reduction initiatives and communicate how you divert your facility’s waste from landfills to help strengthen your corporate message, investment profile, and ESG ratings.

Vikas Ahuja   |  
Landline Contact510.452.8000   |  

Companies around the world looking to lower their environmental impact and carbon footprint are turning to sustainability initiatives such as Zero Waste to significantly improve their environmental stewardship, corporate responsibility profile, and ESG rankings.

To help you communicate how you reduce, recycle and re-use your waste, the SCS Zero Waste Standard provides a basis for certification for waste diversion and reduction at your individual facilities. Certification provides a 3rd party assurance that waste elements are reused, prevented or diverted from the landfill. Certification can be used to communicate your company’s journey towards eliminating landfill-bound waste generation at your facilities. The annual zero waste assessment captures the amount of waste diverted from landfill as a percentage of total waste generated.

Under the SCS Zero Waste standard, all corporate facilities will be evaluated, and a sample will be audited onsite. Facilities demonstrating at least 50% waste diversion can be recognized under this SCS standard. All claims are based on a twelve-month period.


Zero Waste logo

Unlike other waste certification programs, the SCS Zero Waste certification standard is the only standard to certify at the facility level. Facilities can also be recognized under this standard by verifying a diversion of 50% waste or more, even without achieving 99% diversion to be fully certified “Zero Waste”. The SCS Zero Waste standard takes a facility-by-facility approach that allows for on-site sampling, which reduces the cost of certification while maintaining the integrity of the facility-level certification through document review. This standard also allows for a diversion of hazardous waste to count towards overall diversion, as well as allowing for waste to energy achievement if a facility diverts more than 25% of their waste using waste to energy.

  • FAQs
  • Benefits
  • Process
  • Program Documents

Q: What is the purpose of Zero Waste?
A: As a company begins its corporate sustainability journey, one of the biggest areas of concern should be how the company handles waste. In the U.S. alone, nearly 300 million tons of municipal solid waste are produced each year, much of it going into already strained landfilles, the ocean and the atmosphere with a heavy impact on the environment and human, animal and plant health.

Q: How does Zero Waste certification benefit my company?
A: SCS Zero Waste certification provides a 3rd party assurance of the waste diversion achieved by a company over a 12-month period and can be used to communicate the company’s journey towards eliminating landfill-bound waste generation at its facilities. The annual assessment captures the amount of waste diverted from landfill as a percentage of total waste generated.

Q: How is the SCS Zero Waste certification program different from others, such as GBCI TRUE certification or NSF Landfill Free certification?
A: There are several key factors that distinguish the SCS Zero Waste certification program from other waste certification and verification programs:

  1. Cost savings: We perform on-site audits on a sampling basis which lowers the cost of certification for clients with multiple locations
  2. Verification of diversion percentages: While we keep the definition of Zero Waste as 99% diversion, facilities only have to show 50% diversion to participate in the SCS certification. Other standards do not allow for “participation” without achieving at least 90% diversion, therefore our standard opens up the certification based on their current waste achievement, which allows more companies/facilities to participate and tailor their ESG messaging
  3. Hazardous Waste: Our standard accepts an allowance of diversion of hazardous waste to count towards diversion on a case by case basis (following analysis)
  4. Waste to Energy: Our standard allows for waste to energy achievement on a case by case basis, if facility diverts more than 25% of their waste using waste to energy.
  5. Risidual Rate Allowance: Our standard allows for the default industry/regional residual rates to be applied when calculating diversion rates if data from haulers/third party waste collection service is not available. Other standards require hauler affidavits.

Q: What types of facilities can be certified?
A: Any facility qualifies as long as the waste management activities are all under the purview of the company applying for certification.

Q: Do my facilities have to be 99% waste free in order to be certified Zero Waste by SCS?
A: No. In fact, companies need to show that participating facilities have achieved a minimum of 50% waste diversion over a 12-month period to be considered for certification. Actual diversion per facility will be stated on the certificate each year. This enables corporations to tell the story of their zero-waste journey, year over year.

Q: Do all of my facilities have to have an in-person audit every year to be certified Zero Waste?
A: No. The SCS Zero Waste Standard allows for multi-site certification where individual sites are visited on a sample basis each year while data and management documents are reviewed for all sites to be included in the certification.

Q: What does a Zero Waste certification include?
A: The SCS Zero Waste certificate includes a transparent overview of the company’s zero waste achievements, including the following required information:

  • The percent of waste diversion the company has achieved for that year (All claims certifications are based on a twelve-month period). Percentage is calculated by (diverted waste - residuals) + prevented waste) / (total waste + prevented waste)
  • Each method of diversion used (e.g., recycling, composting, waste-to-energy) as well as the percentage diverted using each method
  • The progress the company has made in waste diversion expressed as points; for example, if a company achieved 55% diversion last year and 60% diversion in the audited year; the certificate would show ‘+5’.
  • Whether the company currently stores any waste

Q: We have multiple facilities. Is it possible to only certify a few at a time, or do we have to certify all facilities to qualify for SCS Zero Waste certification?
A: Yes, every facility is certified to the diversion rate achieved at that facility.

Q: What are diversion amounts and how are they calculated?
A: A company’s diversion amount is a calculation of the amount of materials defined as wastes disposed of in an environmentally beneficial manner using the following methods: recycling, composting, re-use, reclaiming, prevention, waste-to-energy (instead of sending it to the landfill). Percentage is calculated by (diverted waste – residuals + prevented waste) / (total waste + prevented waste).

Q: What is “waste prevented by re-design”?
A: Waste that is no longer generated due to a new production or procurement process. For example, a company switches from single use molds to reusable molds, or from carboard packaging from suppliers to reusable containers. SCS recognizes reductions from redesign towards a company’s total diversion percentage for a 12-month period.

Q: I don’t understand all of types of waste and measurements that are part of the Zero Waste standard and a zero waste audit. Do you have a list of Zero Waste definitions?
A: Yes, below is a list of the most common types of waste and measurements that are being assessed as part of a Zero Waste audit and certification:

Ash: Includes ‘fly ash’ which is the airborne ash collected after incineration and ‘incinerator bottom ash’ which is the heavy ash found in the bottom of an incinerator post burning.

Average Residual Percentages: Industry averages of residuals calculated in formal studies. For example, in the state of California, the California Environmental Protection Agency (CEPA) conducted a study which showed that the residuals percentages for the year 2005 are: Single-Stream Materials Recovery Facility (MRF): 14%, Multi-Stream: 6%, Mixed Waste: 81%, Construction and Demolition (C&D) 23%. (see Table 4, page 3: here) These can be applied to an Operator’s outgoing materials if an affidavit with a specific percentage cannot be provided by the recycling facility.

Composted Material: Materials organic in nature which are sent to a compost facility where they are allowed to decay to form relatively homogeneous and stable humus-like substance [ISO 14021].

Construction and Demolition Debris: Materials resulting from the construction and demolition (C&D) of buildings and other structures, including materials such as metals, wood, gypsum, asphalt shingles, roofing, concrete, rocks, rubble, soil, paper, plastics and glass, but excluding putrescible wastes (SWANA Technical Policies, Attachment B). 

Diverted Waste: Internally processed waste and/or non-landfill-bound waste sent for external processing. 

Hazardous Waste: a waste listed by EPA; or a waste that is characterized by being ignitable, reactive, corrosive, or extraction procedure toxic (USDA Agricultural Resource Service).

Mixed Waste Processing Facility: A facility where recyclable materials are separated from waste that is landfill-bound.

Multi-Stream Materials Recovery Facility (MRF): a facility at which source separated recyclables (recyclables that are separated into categories by the initial user before being picked up) are processed for sale to various markets.

Operator: Entity that owns or manages a facility.

Prevented Waste from Redesign: Waste that would have occurred under a former process, but has since been eliminated due to redesign of the product or packaging. Prevented waste from redesign can be calculated by dividing the previous year’s total weight of the (now) prevented waste by the total number of units of product created in the previous year. Then multiplying this result by the number of units generated in the current year. Process will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to ensure claims of prevented waste from redesign are accurate.

Re-claimed Material: Material that would have otherwise been disposed of as waste or used for energy recovery, but has instead been collected and recovered [reclaimed] as a “NEW” material input, in lieu of new primary material, for a recycling or a manufacturing process [ISO 14021].

Reasonable Distance: defined by the Operator’s location relative to the nearest recycling/composting/reuse facility and nearest Waste-to-Energy Plant: in situations where the nearest MRF is more than twice the distance to the nearest Waste-to-Energy Plant, disposal via Waste-to-Energy can be an acceptable approach under this standard.

Recycled material: Material sent to a recycling facility to be shredded, pelletized, or chemically altered to be remade into objects or substances for commercial use. Common materials include glass, metal, cardboard, and plastics, but may apply to other materials, as well.

Re-used Material: Material that would have otherwise been disposed of as waste or used for energy recovery, but has instead been collected at the end of the process to be used again for its initial purpose.

Residuals: Waste material that remains after processing has taken place. Residuals percentages are specific to the type of recycling facility as well as to the state or city (depending on available data). Operator is responsible for obtaining these percentages in an affidavit from the facilities used for processing. Average Residual Percentages may be used if affidavits from facilities cannot be provided. See Average Residual Percentages above.

Single-Stream Materials Recovery Facility (MRF): A recycling facility into which commingled recycling materials (recyclables that are mixed together by the initial user) are accepted and processed.

Waste Diversion: the practice of disposing of materials defined as wastes in an environmentally beneficial manner using the following methods: recycling, composting, re-use, reclaiming, prevention, waste-to-energy (instead of sending it to the landfill). Percentage is calculated by (diverted waste – residuals + prevented waste) / (total waste + prevented waste). Waste Diversion Achieved: 50 – 100% of all waste material is diverted in one twelve-month period.

Waste-to-Energy (WTE): Energy recovered from material that would have been disposed of as waste but instead has been collected through managed processes [ISO 14021]. This method includes incineration, pyrolysis, and anaerobic digestion where the main purpose and output of the process is to create energy. Zero Waste: 99%+ of all waste material is diverted in one twelve-month period for a defined facility.

Q: What other environmental certifications does SCS offer?
A: Zero Waste certification is just one of many certifications a company can achieve as part of its ongoing sustainability journey. SCS offers more than 100 certification and validation programs for a wide variety of products and processes to help companies as they grow towards being more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Such measures ultimately help companies achieve better ESG ratings from the many corporate ratings companies, which in turn positions the company well from an ESG investment and institutional investor perspective. For a complete listing of all SCS certifications and validations, visit:

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