Time For A Plastic Audit?

This article was originally published by Great Forest on LinkedIn.

“Just one word… Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics.”

Those famous lines from the 1967 movie The Graduate were pretty accurate. Today, plastic is everywhere. Their usefulness is undeniable. But it may be time for every business (and home) to do a plastic audit to determine the amount of plastics building up in their waste and recycling streams.

How much plastics do we use?

The EPA estimates that the US throws away about 30 million metric tons of plastic waste each year. It has been reported that almost every piece of plastic ever made still exists. A search of a variety of sources and studies offers some estimated figures:

  • Plastic bags: About 100 billion plastic bags are used in the U.S. every year, and about one trillion are used annually worldwide. That’s nearly 2 million every minute. In New York City, about 170 million plastic bags are discarded each week.
  • Plastic bottles: In 2021, the number of water bottles used is expected to top half a trillion. In 2016, more than 480 billion were sold worldwide. Just a decade before, the number was 300 billion.
  • Plastic cups: About 500 billion plastic cups and 16 billion disposable coffee cups with linings and lids are used worldwide every year,
  • Plastic straws: The highest estimate put U.S. straw use at about 500 million a year, but other studies put the figure between 170 million and 390 million per day, or 63 billion to 142 billion straws per year.
  • Plastic packaging: In 2015, plastic packaging made up over half of the world’s plastic waste–over 141 million metric tons.
  • Plastic takeout containers: Takeaway containers, including plastic cups, plates, straws, and clamshell containers account for about 269,000 tons of plastic waste in the U.S.
  • Plastic utensils: more than 100 million pieces are used in the U.S. each day.

Why should businesses care?

A Great Forest study based on over 100 waste audits conducted across the country and internationally revealed that approximately 62% of the average commercial office trash stream consists of materials that are recyclable and could be diverted from the landfill.

This means that the average business is probably paying more than they need to for waste removal. 

Plastics (along with glass and metal) make up 14%, or about one quarter, of all the recyclables discarded.

With both waste removal and recycling costs rising, especially with the upheaval of the recycling markets due to the China import ban, businesses should take a closer look at all their waste streams.

Adopting zero waste strategies is the only long-term solution to properly managing waste and controlling costs, and starting with plastic is the obvious answer.

How much plastic does your business/office throw away?

To find out, you need to do a waste audit.

A waste audit is a survey of your waste streams. Our waste auditors methodically go through bags of waste, sort items, record and analyze the data in order to 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. It will produce a detailed map of what can and should be reduced, reused, recycled or avoided altogether.

You might be surprised at what you find.

Not only is there mounting public awareness and concern about the proliferation of plastics in our bodies and the environment, but from a business standpoint, it simply makes long term financial sense to invest in reusable products that can be used thousands of times, while reducing the purchasing of plastics as prices for them rise, and regulatory concerns around their use grow.

So take the lead today. Read our mini case study below.

Need help? Ask Great Forest today

Mini Case Study

During one of our waste audits, we discovered that plastic water bottles made up the bulk of one company’s waste and recycling stream.

The solution? We worked with the company to install water dispensers throughout their offices, and supported that effort with an educational campaign encouraging staff to bring in their own reusable mugs. We also reminded them that it was the cheaper alternative to purchasing bottles of water. The result was a vast decrease in the amount of plastic bottles in their waste stream.


Photo: ishan seefromthesky, Unsplash



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