The Right Tool for the Job - a Waste Assessment (Waste Audit)

A coffee shop generates different wastes than an insurance company or a doctor's office. It's important to know what materials make up your waste before you try to develop a plan to reduce it. One of the first steps in reducing your waste is to "assess" it.

A Waste Assessment (also called a Waste Audit) involves looking in your dumpster, determining how much of what materials you throw away each day/week, and finding ways to reduce, reuse and recycle those materials. Through a waste assessment, you can establish a baseline to help set priorities and to be able to measure results for waste reduction programs.

Conduct a walk-through of your facility to find out where trash is coming from and where it ends up.

Make sure you plan the walk-through before trash is picked up for the day. It's important that the waste bins are full so you can get an accurate idea of the waste generated.

Time your walk-through when your business is operating "as normal". Avoid times when you have one-time, big jobs (like a mass mailing or a one-time big order), as this will skew your results.

Your walk-through should include a visit to every department and the final waste disposal area.

As you go department to department, look not only at the materials in the trash containers, but also at the materials that are used around the office on a day-to-day basis. By identifying simple waste reduction opportunities, you can minimize your waste and reduce costs.

Try to guesstimate how much of each waste type is being thrown out. You will need this information when evaluating recycling and reuse options. Remember this is only an estimate - if you want to be truly accurate, consider sorting your trash.

Another method of determining how much is being thrown out is finding out how much is being purchased. If you know how much paper is purchased and estimate that 15% of all paper used in your business is kept for records, it is safe to assume the remaining 85% of the paper is thrown away in the trash (assuming there are no other reasons to retain the paper). By figuring out the initial weight of paper before use, you can estimate how much paper you will have as it is thrown away.

Use the results of your waste assessment to decide what materials to focus on for waste reduction. Target the biggest fractions of your waste stream and the easiest to handle — the low hanging fruit. Check your progress by conducting a periodic walk-through.

For a good ICI waste assessment / waste audit, click here.

For a good school-related waste assessment / waste audit, see the U.S. EPA's Waste Assessment Guide.

[Source: abridged from in Sept. 2006 WasteWatch ]