Why Waste and Why a Waste Audit?

一    Tiffany McGrath
|    August 23, 2022

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Why Waste and Why a Waste Audit?

Waste is an area where there are often easily identifiable wins on your sustainability journey. Identify Waste opportunities with payback and generate that extra revenue stream.

According to the UNEP, the increasing volume and complexity of waste associated with our modern economy pose a severe risk to our ecosystems and health. An estimated 11.2 billion tonnes of solid waste are collected worldwide annually, and the decay of the organic portion contributes to about 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

Before reducing waste, you must set the current waste baseline. The organisation can then analyse the composition and volume of waste to see if operational changes lead to reductions in waste figures. Essentially, a waste audit is a physical analysis of the waste composition to understand problems and identify potential opportunities and solutions to the volume of waste generated. 

Four Steps for Waste Audit in a Nutshell:

  1. Characterise the various waste streams and verify waste pathways
  2. Measure and Establish a baseline to benchmark data
  3. Identify opportunities for source reduction and waste diversion.
  4. Operationalise: Assess the effectiveness and determine ways to improve efficiencies of practices linked with local government practices

How to Start

1. Assemble a team and set a date. Ensure you have a volunteer or sustainability committee member from every department (aim for at least five people). Select a “normal week” with no unusual events or low occupancy. The data required needs to be as “normal” as possible. In saying this, the audit must be repeated several times over a year to evaluate outcomes. For that week, waste needs to be sorted and weighed daily, and then totals are added.

2. Determine waste categories before the audit. It is essential to determine the types of waste segregation and what department it is coming from (Category); this will assist in deciding reduction measures moving forward. Ten (10) recommended hazardous and non-hazardous categories that you can include; of course, add more if needed. Non-Hazardous (1) paper & cardboard, (2) packaging separating plastics by type as well as tetra packs and so on, (3) metal & aluminium cans, (4) glass, (5) cooking oil, (6) food waste such as organic, meat fish and dairy, cooked (7) green waste. Hazardous (8) Human Waste, (9) Lubricants (10) Chemicals such as those for cleaning, pest control, painting and so on. These categories are up to you and what facilities you have in your area to deal with the waste.

The Process

Gather, Sort, and Weigh by each Category and Department

  • If you labelled your trash by department, make sure each has a separate box
  • Wearing gloves, sort all materials into the boxes for their categories
  • As you work, note any recyclables mixed in with trash and or anything else that shouldn’t be there
  • Weigh all the waste by its category to get a baseline for how much you throw out each day 

Metrics for Analysis

  • Calculate the volume of total waste you produce weekly and calculate it “by category.”
  • Create current diversion percentage if you are currently recycling (recyclables/total waste * 100) = Recycling Rate
  • Gather Insights on which category is the highest, and ask yourself some investigative questions: did the highest types differ between departments? Were there any instances of mixed waste or classes you didn’t know you had? 

Next Steps Post Audit 

Once the waste audit is complete, determine if your current waste management facilities and vendors match your needs, analyse current contracts, and select the effects of output changes. (Bin sizes and the number of pickups etc.). Assess if it is commercially and operationally a viable solution for your business.

  1. Implement waste segregation at source for outlets and kitchens and housekeeping pantries
    • Including separating organic waste from cooked and post-consumer waste etc. (depending on what you plan to do with it)
    • Separate organic vs plastics, cans, and glass 
    • Implement segregation in all bars and restaurants to assist further in non-contaminated recycling efforts
  2. Set a goal for reducing the amount of waste in your largest categories
  3. Set a goal for increasing your recycling rate
    • Hire a recycling service if you don’t already have one 
    • Create recycling guidelines for meeting that goal and share them with your team
    • Identify any items you can reuse
  4. Look for opportunities to change products and work with purchasing and vendors on implementing components of a more effective procurement strategy that minimises packaging waste, styrofoam, etc. Keep in mind that some items may take longer to reduce due to current stock on hand, finding alternative suppliers for when supply runs out, current contracts in effect, and expiry.
  5. Keep staff updated and engaged regarding timelines for meeting recycling and reduction goals; and
  6. Plan to conduct another waste audit to see if you met your goals

These tried and tested changes, once made, can reduce waste drastically. You can work methodically to achieve reduction and diversion goals using this process. If you need to invest in technology, you better understand what and how much volume you produce to purchase equipment more effectively. Also, you can accurately and honestly communicate your wins to staff and guests with transparency. 

Written by: Tiffany McGrath

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