Smarter Business: Greening Advisor


Waste Audits

A waste audit is an analysis of your building’s waste stream. It can identify what types of recyclable materials and waste your office generates and how much of each type is recovered for recycling or discarded. Using the data collected during a waste audit, your organization can identify ways to reduce waste and enhance its recycling efforts and determine the potential for cost savings. By designing a more efficient waste disposal program, your business can increase the amount of paper, plastic, and metals that it recycles, which reduces air and water pollution, helps curb global warming, and conserves natural resources.

Some local governments may be willing to conduct a free waste audit for your business. Contact yours to learn more about the services it provides. Your waste hauler may also be willing to conduct a waste audit. Also consider joining the EPA’s free WasteWise program, which provides members with several benefits, including a technical assistance team that can help your company conduct a waste audit and identify waste reduction opportunities.

For listings of recycling service providers near you, visit Earth 911’s Business Resources directory and the Environmental Yellow Pages.

Calculate the environmental benefits of recycling.

For a comprehensive discussion of waste and use reduction, see EPA’s Business Guide for Reducing Solid Waste.

Waste Audits Can Save Money

Recycling and composting can save money through avoided disposal and hauling costs. Many recyclable items can also be sold on the market as a source of revenue. A waste audit can help your company identify these potential savings and revenue opportunities.

Many companies have realized savings through their efforts to increase recycling. For instance, the Brooklyn Brewery in Brooklyn, New York, implemented a variety of recycling and waste reduction measures, including recycling its cardboard and plastic wastes. These measures reduced the company’s annual waste generation by more than 50 percent, saving it more than $25,000 a year in hauling and disposal costs.

The San Diego Wild Animal Park generates more than 23,000 tons of waste annually but discards only 4 percent of this waste in landfills. The park has implemented a comprehensive composting program for organic waste and has distributed recycling containers throughout its 1,800 acres, in addition to many other programs. In total, these efforts save the organization more than $1 million in landfilling and hauling fees each year.

For more examples of how smart waste practices can save your company money, see the following websites:

What Is a Waste Audit?

During a waste audit, the auditor investigates the sources, composition, weight, volume, and destinations of the waste that your business generates. Some government or not-for-profit organizations will perform this service free of charge, or it can be done in-house. By learning more about the trash your business generates, you can be better informed about the products you buy that contribute to waste and be better prepared to more efficiently dispose of it, saving money and improving your company’s environmental performance.

How to Perform a Waste Audit

Performing a waste audit is an effective way to learn more about the trash your business generates. In order to create an accurate representation of your waste stream and recycling efforts, consider performing multiple waste audits at different seasons during  year.

  1. Ensure proper safety measures.
    Provide thick gloves to sorters, and make sure everyone has had a tetanus shot. Involve the company’s occupational health and safety director.
  2. Ensure proper confidentially measures.
    The waste stream may contain personal and private information that should be kept confidential. Ensure that no documents are being read during the audit and that nothing leaves the auditing area. Consider having participants sign confidentiality agreements.
  3. Enlist building managers, custodial staff, and waste haulers.
    The help of building managers, custodial staff, and waste haulers is invaluable to a successful waste audit. These personnel can assist in gathering your business’s waste and can also provide logistical insights about your recycling and waste management system.
  4. Keep the timing of the audit a secret.
    By keeping the timing of a waste audit secret, you ensure that the waste you analyze is a truly representative sample of the waste your business generates at a particular time of year. If people are informed in advance of the date of a waste audit, they may increase their recycling efforts or otherwise alter their behavior.
  5. Collect waste.
    Work with waste haulers, custodial staff, and concessions managers to collect the waste. Make sure that everything collected is clearly labeled by date and location.
  6. Sort waste.
    Sort the collected waste by type, noting paper; cardboard; recyclable and nonrecyclable plastics, glass, and metals; food waste; batteries; and so on. Make sure to note recyclable materials that have not been diverted for recycling.
  7. Analyze results and make recommendations.What is the composition of your business’s waste stream? How much can your company increase its recycling? By what methods can your company increase its recycling? How can waste be collected more efficiently? What are the opportunities to reduce waste generation? How can your business save money by altering its waste management systems?

Additional Resources

Greening Advisor

The Business Plan

The Opportunities

Quick Fact

New York’s Brooklyn Brewery saved more than $25,000 a year in hauling and disposal costs by implementing a variety of recycling and waste reduction measures, including recycling its cardboard and plastic wastes.

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A waste audit can help your organization identify ways to reduce waste and enhance its recycling efforts and determine the potential for cost savings.

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