Going Back to Basics Leads to Better Waste Management

This Great Forest case study was featured in Environmental Leader’s 2014 Insider Knowledge Report–Lessons Learned from Corporate Environmental, Sustainability and Energy Decision-Makers (download pdf). It documents the innovative Open Top Container Log (OTCL) system developed by Great Forest.

Going Back to Basics Leads to Better Waste Management

Waste costs can take up a substantial portion of a company’s operating budget.

More often than not, businesses end up paying more for waste removal than they should, simply because they are using inaccurate waste data. 

What we have found is that paying attention to how much is being thrown away goes a long way in keeping waste removal costs low.

The catch is trash is messy and it isn’t metered like electricity or water.

To deal with this problem, Great Forest consultants began brainstorming ways to measure overall waste and recycling volumes more accurately on an ongoing basis.

The first ideas involved using electronic rangefinders, cameras, or scales on the garbage trucks. High tech bins were also considered, where bin fullness is measured by remote technology. But surprisingly the technique we found most effective was the simplest: recording bin fullness with a paper and pen.

We call it Open Top Container Logs (OTCLs), and we started using this system in the D.C. region last year.

The data we gathered was so beneficial in providing Great Forest consultants with accurate information to monitor waste volumes that we will be expanding the program to more than 100 buildings this year.

Every building we have used the OTCL system in has either reduced their waste costs, obtained a more accurate diversion rate, and/or improved the efficiency of their waste and recycling program.

The simplicity of the OTCL system means that implementation is also easy. Moreover, it makes use of existing resources, in this case, the building’s existing cleaning crew.

Here is how it works:

  • Great Forest trains cleaning crews (in both English and Spanish) to accurately gauge container fullness using simple measurement guidelines we developed, and to record their observations in OTC logs, which only take seconds to complete.
  • The data is used to adjust service levels to maximize efficiency of the company’s waste and recycling program. For example, if OTCL data shows that a container is consistently only 50% full when it gets picked up, Great Forest consultants will adjust the waste metrics and reduce hauler service levels to save money for the company. If the container is consistently piled-high, we increase hauler service to prevent overflow and costly double-pulls.
  • By involving the cleaning crew, we are also opening another line of communication, allowing us to identify and address any waste and recycling issues quickly, and avoid misunderstandings. Moreover, the cleaning crews we worked with told us they are happy with the system as it is an easy way for them to add value to the services they provide.

– by Barbara Fonseca, Sustainability Consultant; and Magdalene Sim, Director, Communications, Great Forest.

(Note: Using fullness logs like our OTCL system is a method accepted by the USGBC as a way of tracking waste and recycling metrics for properties seeking LEED O+M MR7 credit.)

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