Sustainability 101

Waste Audits: What Are They, Why They’re Important

Waste Audit in action
A waste audit in action

Your trash is talking. And it can reveal your deepest, darkest secrets, or unlock some of your greatest potentials.

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

What is a waste audit?

A waste audit is a survey of a facility’s regular waste stream. In other words, we look through bags of waste, sort items, and 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 an audit, you are operating in the dark based on guesswork.

Why are waste audits important?

1) Waste audits 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. Reducing waste can also lead to savings. By reducing what is going into their trash, companies may be able to reduce their waste hauling fees, which are increasing all the time. Their recyclables might even have value on the market.

  • A global consumer products brand discovered breakdowns in their program that resulted in lot of waste.  Recyclables, especially plenty of cardboard and plastic wrap, were not being collected for baling.  Not only did the audit uncover this sizable revenue stream, it also revealed potential savings of up to 33% of the client’s 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. Read the case study.
  • Another company 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.
  • A bonus – the audit results were a morale booster for their employees, who were delighted to learn that their efforts were making a measurable difference.

4) 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.

5) 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 the information for your CSR or GRI reporting needs.

6) 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.

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