Say the word “audit” and people tend to scatter like a bunch of marbles. The audit does not have a very positive reputation to begin with, so most people would certainly not associate audits with anything as beneficial as sustainability. However, a “waste audit,” which evaluates the efficiency and environmental impact of a company’s waste management systems, is not as unpleasant as the name implies (though it does involve sifting through garbage).
The objectives of a normal waste audit are to find out how much and what kinds of waste a building is generating, to determine how effective the current waste disposal systems are, to generate ideas for improving these systems, and to conduct a follow-up study in order to make sure the methods put into place for waste collection are working properly.
Why Audit Waste?
A waste audit can aid recycling efforts by determining how much recyclable material is deposited in the proper receptacles (if the proper receptacles are present) and how much is discarded. Once the audit is complete, you will analyze the data you’ve collected and identify the problem areas in your waste management practices. Reducing waste and increasing the amount of material that’s recycled can not only benefit the environment, but it can also save your clients money and provide BSCs with a valuable new add-on service.
A tiny office may conduct a waste audit independently, but most companies will need a separate party to help with the process—and that’s where BSCs come in. Boasting extensive experience with the safety practices necessary to sort waste and perhaps already in charge of disposing of waste for clients, BSCs are eminently qualified to handle a waste audit. The only thing most BSCs need before they can successfully conduct an audit is a guide to the actual step-by-step process of an effective audit. Here are some basic guidelines to conducting a successful waste audit.
Plan: The maxim “Failure to plan is planning to fail” is an old favorite of 10th grade teachers everywhere. In order to make sure your audit goes off without a hitch, listen to this sage advice and work out a thorough plan. Talk to office management and be certain that you have their support; they will be an invaluable help in working out the schedule and details of your audit. Work out the objectives of your audit and allocate manpower and resources accordingly. The audit is a disruption both of your schedule and that of the building’s occupants, so be prepared to deal with any potential problems resulting from that disruption. The accuracy and effectiveness of the audit require that it be carried out swiftly and smoothly, and cutting corners on the planning process will definitely hurt you in the long run.
First, define the study area. This includes the objectives of your audit, the specific locations that you plan to examine, the approximate amount of waste that will be collected from these locations, and the categories of type into which the waste will be sorted. After you finalize the initial plan, visit the target location in order to collect information such as the number of employees in the area, the number and locations of the bins, the types of waste usually generated by the occupants, and the schedule for emptying the bins. Additional preparations for the audit should include the collection of auditing equipment, the briefing and training of workers involved in the project, and double-checking final details.
Before you begin the audit, make sure that the proper safety measures are in place. Keep water and a first aid kit close at hand. Sorters should be provided with thick gloves and masks, and everyone must be inoculated against tetanus. You can ask your occupational health and safety director to assist you in taking the proper precautions. In addition, exercise caution when handling waste material that may contain personal and private information. Sorters must not read documents found in the waste or remove anything from the designated auditing area. If you deem it necessary, have the sorters sign confidentiality agreements.
Finally, it is imperative that you work with office management to keep the timing of the audit a secret. Knowledge of an impending waste audit will almost certainly alter the waste disposal habits of the building’s occupants.
Collect: Here’s where the dirty work begins. Make sure you have the cooperation and support of any management in the building before the collection process starts. Every participant must have clear instructions about the types of waste they are to collect and how to label the bags with the sources of the waste, like “2nd Floor Kitchen” or “Ground Floor Bathroom.” Consider running through a trial collection before the official day of the audit. You can guide everyone through the collection process, and the trial will help you to anticipate any issues that may arise during collection.
All waste should be collected daily and sorted into bags labeled with the location and date on which the waste was gathered. Other relevant details, such as there being an unusually high amount of waste due to an office party or another similar event, may also be recorded on a label. The waste will then be transported to a sorting area on-site or taken by a licensed, reliable transporter to another secure location.
Sort: Now we get down to the nitty-gritty of the audit. Before the waste is sorted, it is important to remember to prepare the sorting area by covering the tables with plastic and setting up the scales for measuring the waste. You should also gather the supplies needed to clean the area after the audit is finished.
After you record the source of the waste inside each bag, weigh it before carefully emptying its contents onto the table, sorting the waste into material categories like metal and glass. Count, weigh, and record each individual category of material. Make sure to note recyclable materials that have not been diverted for recycling.
Record your results on a data sheet, clean the table, dispose of the waste, and repeat the process for all of the bags. After you’ve disposed of the last bag of waste, clean and disinfect the tables, equipment, and floor, and have sorters take a hot shower before changing into clean clothes.
Analyze: After you’ve sorted all the waste and collected your data, the results can then be analyzed and recommendations made based on the results. Enter the data onto a spreadsheet and use it to get a picture of the business’s waste stream and generate ideas for improvement. Prepare an audit report detailing your results and making suggestions for different methods your client can use to make their waste disposal practices cleaner and more efficient, reduce their waste output, and improve their recycling system.
The waste audit will not only help to reduce waste and boost recycling, but as an add-on service, it can also provide additional revenue for BSCS. And that revenue isn’t just limited to the fees you charge for the waste audit. Waste audits can provide even more revenue for BSCs if a client agrees to let you handle the recycling drop off. You may not be able to get much money for recycling if you’re working with a small business, but the bulk of material generated by larger offices has value that should not be disregarded.
Before you conduct your audit, contact local recycling centers and find out whether they pay for certain types of recyclable materials. It would also help to make sure you know what materials are not accepted for recycling in the area, so that you do not suggest your clients expand their recycling program when it is not actually possible. Some recyclers and waste haulers provide free containers and revenue sharing, so do not hesitate to ask about the full range of benefits available.
Knowing exactly what types of recyclable materials to look for will help you in the sorting process of the audit. If you would like additional help in setting guidelines for the sorting and measuring of the waste, check the LEED Rating System at www.usgbc.org/leed. LEED sets the standards for units of measurement, categories of material, and goals for minimizing waste. Knowledge of LEED standards can be a useful tool in working out the finer details of the audit and also presents a major selling point if your clients are really serious about “going green.”