Waste Audit Facts and Benefits: Why Every Business Needs One

A Great Forest waste audit in progress

What Is A Waste Audit?

A waste audit is a survey of a facility’s regular waste stream. Waste auditors go through bags of waste, sort items, record and analyze the data. In doing this, they 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 doing an audit, you are operating in the dark and making uninformed decisions about your waste management.

Every business should listen to what their trash is telling them at least once a year by conducting an audit of their waste streams.

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

What Can Waste Audits Reveal?

A waste audit can reveal a lot about how your business or building is operating.

Waste audits can reveal costly, wasteful problems or unlock opportunities like new revenue streams. They are essential for maximizing the effectiveness of your programs, measuring success, and improving operations.

As waste management pioneers, Great Forest established the comprehensive waste audit process that has become industry standard. Our team has collectively managed and conducted thousands of 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.

In August 2021, Great Forest completed the largest and most comprehensive study to date on commercial building waste.  The Great Forest global team conducted waste audits at over 100 buildings across the US and internationally, analyzing over 170,000 pounds of waste. The findings revealed that 62 percent of what a typical commercial building usually throws out as trash is actually recyclable. A typical commercial building waste stream looks like this:

  • 36% organics
  • 14% Glass/Metal/Plastic
  • 10% Paper
  • 1% cardboard
  • < 1% electronic waste

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) 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 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 audit reveals that a huge percentage of recyclables are ending up in the trash, you can take corrective steps, either by refining your waste 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) 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.

  • One global consumer products brand discovered breakdowns in their program that resulted in a lot of waste. Not only did our waste audit uncover a sizable revenue stream for them, it also revealed potential savings of up to 33 percent of their annual waste hauling costs. Without conducting an audit, the company’s program could have continued to be underutilized, resulting in needless waste and years of lost savings.
  • Another company decided to implement an organics program after our 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) 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 programs.

One large financial institution began a series of recycling training sessions after our waste audit revealed that 22 percent 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 percent, meeting their sustainability goals for improvement. The audit results were a morale booster for their employees, who were delighted to learn that their efforts were making a measurable difference.

4) Verify/get more accurate data

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

5) Meet certification standards

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

6) Fulfill requirements for certain regulatory compliance and reporting purposes

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

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