Waste Audit

How To Conduct a Waste Audit for Your Business

Do you know that taking out the trash could be costing your business money? From the disposal of food scraps to pharmaceutical waste, glass, and organic waste, your company's daily operations produce waste. 

Waste management should be essential to your business objectives as a business owner. Not only does it help your company save money, but it also allows you to support sustainability goals that have become important to today’s consumers.  

According to Great Forest, 77% of trash thrown away by most companies is not trash at all. This means that most companies may lose valuable recyclables and pay too much for waste removal.  

For effective waste management and waste reduction, you need to get data. This is where carrying out a waste audit comes in. 

In this article, we will look at what waste audits are, why and how you can benefit from waste auditing, and simple steps to carry out waste audits for your organization. 

What is a waste audit?

Ross waste audit
Ross waste audit as the Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability. Photo Credit: SNRE (CC BY 2.0)

A waste audit or waste stream audit is the process of analyzing an organization’s waste stream. In other words, a waste audit studies certain types of waste and how much waste a business produces. 

A waste audit aims to collect information about the various waste streams in your company. Waste auditors will sort out and analyze different trash bags and recycling bins samples to identify, measure, and record the waste produced daily or weekly in your company. Auditors will also examine how much waste is recycled, composted, or sent to landfills. 

With a waste audit report, you can identify mistakes your company has been making when it comes to disposing of waste. You can also get insight into how to promote your waste reduction goals and save money. 

Why should you conduct a waste audit? 

So why should you carry out a waste audit for your company? Well, waste audits come with multiple benefits. With a waste audit, you can get information to help your waste management goals and also cut down waste from landfills. Also, waste audits are required for companies looking to get a LEED Certification and some other zero waste certifications.  

Here are a few benefits of waste audits: 

Waste audits help with waste management  

To correctly manage waste from your company, you need to measure the waste your company disposes of. 

A waste audit will help your company determine the materials that are recyclable, compostable, or materials that you should take to landfills. With findings from your company’s waste audit, you can create opportunities to educate employees on the costs of waste disposal and the importance of waste diversion.    

Waste audits help reduce costs

With less waste generated, you will pay less to haul away waste. A waste audit can reveal areas that produce more waste and help you find innovative ways to reduce waste. With data from a waste audit, you can manage waste at all stages of business and reduce costs drastically.                   

Waste audits can help with recycling  

With data from your company’s waste audit, you can cut down on waste disposal and find ways to recycle different materials like plastic, glass, and paper. Instead of disposing of valuable materials, you can find ways to recycle or reuse them. For example, instead of disposing of your cardboard packaging, you can reuse them. 

Waste audits help you gauge the effectiveness of operations 

With an audit, you can take the guesswork out of waste management. Audits will help you see what’s working and what's not with your waste management programs. You can uncover wasteful activities and measure the success of your recycling programs. 

For example, with an audit, you can discover valuable recyclables that end up in the garbage. A waste audit reveals your waste diversion rate and helps you adjust to increase your overall efficiency. 

Waste audits help with waste compliance and certification standards

A waste audit is a major requirement for different certification standards like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). For example, one of the requirements for a LEED is a review of 100% of ongoing waste streams. Also, a waste audit will help your company follow local laws and avoid fines and penalties. It may also prove the prompt you need to pursue zero waste in your business and become a more sustainable business

Steps to conducting a waste audit  

Now you know the benefit of a waste audit. Let’s look at a few steps to conduct your waste audit. 

Planning a waste audit
Photo by cottonbro

Step 1: Plan your waste audit

Planning your waste audit is an essential part of the entire process. You must assemble your team and decide where and when the waste auditing will occur. 

Firstly, you need to assemble your audit team from key organization members. You want to pick the best green members from all company levels. From the senior leaders to junior leaders and the safety and janitorial staff. When selecting your team, keep your sustainability goals in mind. You want to pick a team that is flexible to changes. 

Next, you want to choose a week to complete your audit. You want to choose a week with no special events to get an accurate average of what waste comes from your company. Lastly, you want to take note of various waste disposal locations that your team will visit to collect waste samples. 

Step 2: Categorize different types of waste 

The next step to implementing a waste audit is to find what type of trash your company produces. Before the week of your audit, create a list of the most common types of trash that your company produces. For example, you can categorize your audit trash into: 

  • Plastic waste 
  • Paper waste
  • Organic waste
  • Pharmaceutical waste
  • Glass waste
  • Packaging waste
  • Cardboard waste, etc. 

Step 3: Get your waste audit tools 

To ensure the safety of each team member, you will need to gather some tools and supplies. Here are a few things you will need for the audit:  

  • Firstly, get an open space for sorting out the trash. 
  • Next, get protective gear for every team member, including face masks, rubber gloves, and goggles. This is important because everyone will work with different waste objects like glass, tissue, food, etc. 
  • Get hand sanitizers and wipes.
  • Get boxes for the different waste categories 
  • Get a bathroom scale to measure the weight of each waste category
  • Get some trash bags for after the audit
  • Get your cameras and phones
  • Get clipboards and pens for recording waste audit data

Step 4: Start sorting your trash 

And now the action begins. Start by collecting trash samples from various locations in your company and round up all the trash by the end of the week. You may want to label all the trash bags with the name of the department they came from.  

Next, check the weight of the trash and the recyclables to know what the trash is and what you recycle every week. Next, sort everything in separate boxes, taking note of the recyclables mixed with waste, i.e., materials that haven’t been disposed of properly. Once your team has sorted everything, you want to find out the weight of each category. You can record the entire process using your clipboard, pen, camera, and phone. 

Step 5: Analyse your findings  

After sorting the trash, the next step is to analyze your findings. You want to calculate your waste diversion rate, which is the rate of the weight of your recyclables divided by the overall weight of your trash. You also want to examine the weights of different categories, including waste not correctly disposed of. Take note of the mistakes made and identify areas of improvement. You can choose a member of the team to create recommendations and determine waste diversion goals for the company. 

Step 6: Make changes 

Recycling bin
Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

After analyzing your results, the last step to complete your audit is to implement changes in your company. This could be to reduce waste, increase the number of bins in your organization or make adjustments to your waste management program.   

Here are some strategies you can implement in your company:

  • Instead of buying new equipment, you can make use of rental services 
  • Identify items you can reuse
  • Make use of less packaging 
  • Eliminate the use of paper
  • Upcycle office supplies
  • Buy recyclable or compostable products 
  • Get your office material from another company’s waste stream
  • Get suppliers with take-back programs 

Step 7: Set new goals and keep improving 

Carrying out waste audits is great, but it is even more important to follow up on your new action plan. You can have meetings with your team to analyze progress made and celebrate milestones. You also want to set new goals to encourage improvement. As you implement new strategies to reduce waste in your company, you want to make sure you develop continual improvement plans.   

Related: 6 Tips for a Zero Waste Office & Eco-Friendly Workplaces

Conducting food waste audits 

Food waste is not only produced by consumers but also by various food service facilities like restaurants, bakeries, bars, etc. If your business falls in the food service industry, you may also want to carry out food waste audits. Here’s how to go about food waste auditing:

  • Assemble your team and set a time and date for the audit. Ideally, food waste audits can take a minimum of two weeks. 
  • Next, categorize your food waste. Food waste can be categorized into three: Food Prep, which includes fruits and vegetables, Plate waste (leftovers from consumers); and Spoiled food. This will help you identify where most of your food waste comes from. 
  • Create three separate bins for the food waste categories 
  • Take out any plastic or contaminants
  • Measure the volume of the food waste in each bin using measuring scales. Alternatively, you can estimate the volume by compressing the food waste in each bin to remove any air pockets. 
  • Record data using a notepad 
  • Put the food waste in a compost or trash bin and calculate the amount of food waste generated at the end of each week. 
  • You can use the data from your audit to determine areas that need improvement and avoid food waste

Waste diversion and reduction

The waste diversion process is diverting waste materials from a company or facility to reprocessing centers like a recycling or composting center instead of a landfill. Waste diversion rates refer to the rate at which you divert waste from your facility without burning it or sending it to the landfill. 

You need to start with waste audits to calculate your waste diversion rate. Typically, when completing your audit, you must group your waste into categories like recyclable, compostable, and general trash. 

With data from your audit, you can find out the weight of each bag your organization collects. To calculate waste diversion rates, divide the weight of diverted waste by the weight of all the waste multiplied by 100. 

Understanding your waste diversion rate will help you measure the success of your company’s recycling program and other waste reduction efforts.  

Related: Guide To Zero Waste Resource Management

Final thoughts on waste auditing 

Whatever industry you operate in, waste auditing is essential to implementing effective waste management programs which ultimately impact the growth of your organization. With effective waste audits, you can lower costs, improve recycling operations and drive your overall sustainability goals.  

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