Sustainability 101

What Is A Waste Audit? And Why They Are Important

Waste Audit in action
A waste audit in action

Every business or building should listen to what their trash is telling them at least once a year by conducting a waste audit.  Waste audits can reveal costly, wasteful problems or unlock opportunities like new revenue streams. It is essential for maximizing the effectiveness of your programs, measuring success, and improving operations.

Great Forest has conducted waste audits not only in corporate offices and buildings, but also in schools, universities, VA hospitals, factories, stores, and even in NYC’s Penn Station.  Read on to learn more about waste audits and their benefits.

What Is A Waste Audit?

A waste audit is a survey of a facility’s regular waste stream. In simple terms, a waste audit is like a detailed dumpster dive. Our waste auditors go through bags of waste, sort items, record and analyze the data. In doing this, we identify what is being thrown away, what is being recycled or diverted through other means, and the amounts of each type by weight or volume.

A waste audit not only verifies what you are throwing away, but the value you are losing.  Without a waste audit, you are operating in the dark based on guesswork.

There are varies levels of waste audits, from basic to comprehensive.  Choose the one that’s right for you.

77% Lost Value

A Great Forest study based on over 100 waste audits of commercial office buildings revealed that 77% of what is usually thrown out as trash is actually recyclable.

A typical office waste stream consists of 34% organics, 23% paper, 19% glass/metal/plastic, and 1% e-waste, with only 23% non-recyclable trash.  That is a lot of lost value.

Do you know what’s in your trash? The only way to find out is to do a waste audit.

Waste Audit Benefits

1) Waste audits can help you determine the effectiveness of your operations

Stop guessing. Find out what is really going on.

A waste audit can tell you what is working or not working with your current waste and recycling management program.  It can uncover breakdowns, expose wasteful problems or confirm successes.  This enables you to make necessary adjustments to improve and maximize your operational efficiency.

For example, if your waste audit reveals that a huge percentage of recyclables are ending up in the trash, you can take corrective steps, either by refining your recycling program or through recycling education. The results can also impact your purchasing decisions, for example, by prompting you to look for suppliers with take-back programs or reduced packaging.

2) Waste audits help you save money

Waste audits can unlock missing revenue streams and potential savings. By reducing what is going into your trash, you may also be able to reduce your waste hauling fees, which are increasing all the time. Your recyclables might even have value on the market.

  • Case study:  A global consumer products brand discovered breakdowns in their program that resulted in lot of waste. Not only did the waste audit uncover a sizable revenue stream for them, it also revealed potential savings of up to 33% of their annual waste hauling costs. Without conducting a waste audit, the company’s program could have continued to be underutilized, resulting in needless waste and years of lost savings.
  • Another company we worked with decided to implement an organics program after a waste audit revealed that a large percentage of their trash was made up of food scraps. As a result, their waste load is now 25% lighter.
  •  A client decided to eliminate disposable coffee cups after a waste audit revealed that nearly 30% of their waste volume was made up of these cups.

3) Waste audits help you measure success

A waste audit can help set a baseline and create benchmarks year after year so you can set targets and gauge the progress and effectiveness of your waste and recycling programs.

  • One large financial institution began a series of recycling training sessions after a waste audit revealed that 22% of their trash consisted of recyclables.  A follow-up waste audit a year later showed that the amount of recyclables in their waste stream had dropped to 15%, meeting their sustainability goals for improvement. The audit results were also a morale booster for their employees, who were delighted to learn that their efforts were making a measurable difference.

4) Waste audits help you verify/get more accurate data

Waste audits can help verify data provided by the hauler, which is important for operations and billing.  Incorrect data can lead to unnecessary fees. Accurate data is also key for conducting a waste removal RFP when it is time to renegotiate contracts.

5) Waste audits help you meet certification standards

Waste audits are part of the requirements for various certification standards like LEED. For example, a review of 100% of the ongoing waste stream is necessary to comply with the requirements of LEED for Existing Buildings Operations & Maintenance v2009 or higher.

6) Waste audits are required for certain regulatory compliance and reporting purposes

You may need data from waste audits to complete reporting to put you in regulatory compliance, or you may require the information for your CSR or GRI reporting needs.

Learn more about waste audits

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