Zero Waste Part 1: Start With a Goal, a Baseline, and an Audit

Kristin Kinder

Corporate zero waste initiatives are typically born of altruistic intentions; they’re an honest attempt to move an organization’s sustainability needle and influence its stakeholders along the way. To effectively come to life, these zero waste initiatives must be backed by strategy and process. Caesars Entertainment Corporation is putting their words into action. Ecova recently worked with the iconic $9 billion company to restructure and rejuvenate its zero waste initiative, ensuring Caesars delivered more than just lip service. Caesars’ story offers some insight into the value of process, analysis, and ongoing strategy in the context of zero waste goals.

In 2013, Jeff Ruskowitz joined Caesars as Manager of Engineering and Sustainable Operations. When Ruskowitz took the job, he inherited a zero waste mission along with his myriad of daily responsibilities managing the company’s 49 diverse gaming, dining, entertainment, and hospitality facilities. Until the “Chief Zero Waste Officer” title becomes ubiquitous, that sort of inheritance will continue to be an additional responsibility among facilities managers like Ruskowitz. As part of its CodeGreen initiative to identify, monitor, measure, assess, manage and reduce the company’s material impacts on the environment, the company made a public vow in 2008 to achieve 50 percent waste diversion by the year 2020.

When Ruskowitz arrived five years into the 12-year CodeGreen initiative, he found that waste diversion needed a proverbial right-angle check. The waste diversion infrastructure—which consisted primarily of site-level education and the physical bins and receptacles necessary to facilitate diversion methods such as recycling and composting—had already been implemented. Execution of the initiative, however, was erratic from one site to the next. With no centralized, aggregated reporting effort, Caesars couldn’t confidently assess its progress.


It was time to reassess and reestablish the goal, but to do so, Caesars needed a baseline. With help from Ecova’s zero waste consultants, Ruskowitz created that baseline by establishing a monthly reporting mandate. He implemented organization-wide monthly reporting criteria based on the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) WasteWise guidelines. Throughout 2013, facilities reported their waste prevention, recycling, composting and buying/manufacturing of recycled-content products directly to Ruskowitz.

With that data, Caesars could accurately measure its actual tonnage diversion and ascertain that it had achieved 23 percent diversion heading into 2014. With the company’s baseline established, Caesars was almost ready to begin moving the needle closer to its 2020 goal. But first, Ruskowitz needed to identify additional divertible waste. It was time to dig into the trash.


To determine the greatest opportunities to divert more of Caesars’s waste from landfills, Ecova auditors executed waste audits at two distinct Caesars properties, poring through nearly nine tons of waste.

Waste audits are an element of Ecova’s total waste solution offering, which also includes vendor contract management and comprehensive waste reduction planning. During a waste audit, Ecova’s team dives into the garbage to scientifically measure material that could have been disposed of more sustainably and economically.

While the auditors found considerable differences in the volume of divertible waste at each site, food waste and true recyclables like glass, plastic, paper, cardboard, and metal clearly presented the greatest opportunities. By determining specific measurements of those divertible materials by weight and volume at each property, Ruskowitz and Ecova were able to tweak the outreach and infrastructure requirements for each site to encourage more participation in the waste diversion initiative.

In our second post, we’ll revisit the zero waste initiative at Caesars and detail the ongoing analysis and strategy that’s driving continual improvement toward its 2020 CodeGreen goal.