How to Conduct a Waste Audit

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3 Ways to Conduct a Waste Audit

Waste inefficiencies can sprout up between the cracks of any business. Only after you find the waste– and its sources and where it easily accumulates–can you really create a strong waste reduction program.

By conducting a baseline waste audit, your organization will begin to understand how and where waste is generated during daily business operations. An audit can help you to assess the effectiveness of current waste reduction and recycling programs, and provide insight into employee knowledge and behaviors that are often pivotal for reducing wastes.

Records examinations, waste walk arounds, and waste sorts are three common approaches to conducting a waste audit. Depending on size and type of facility, the complexity of your waste stream, and resources available, your waste audit may require just one approach or all three to determine your waste reduction needs and opportunities.

1. Records Examination

Reviewing your organization’s records enables you to estimate annual waste generated and the costs of collection, removal and disposal. First, identify waste collection labor costs and waste container costs. Determine (if you can) the volume of waste generated. Identify major points of waste origin and find the most expensive waste components. What is the cost of renting waste containers or dumpsters per week? Does (or can) your organization receive revenues from recyclables? Document the financial benefits of reuse and recycling practices and include how much is saved in avoided disposal costs.

This approach is the least time consuming but may not offer quantitative data about why and where waste is generated.

2. Waste Walk Around

Touring your organization’s facility will help you observe specific practices that work and don’t work. Go to each department and talk to employees and managers about waste-producing activities and equipment. These people are on the waste forefront and will disclose waste reduction opportunities that can’t be found in records or paperwork. Moving through the facility, take note of the layout and operation of each department. What waste reduction efforts are being made currently? How does waste move through the organization? Observe the types and relative amounts of waste produced in each aspect of the business. A waste walk around will reveal information about major waste components and waste producing processes but may not provide specifics about what’s in your trash.

3. Waste Sort

Getting down and dirty with your trash can be the most fun and useful part of a waste audit. Sorting through your waste provides quantitative data on waste generated and allows you see what your waste is comprised of.

Gather your green team or interested employees to help collect, sort and weigh a sample of your organization’s waste. Samples can be taken from a specific waste stream or you can analyze waste from one randomly-selected business day or week. It can be helpful to use the same bags to separate and weigh waste during the audit.

The more trash sorted the more accurate the representation. Identify each waste component. Common waste components include paper (office and cardboard), plastic, metal, glass, and organic waste such as food scraps. Ideally, each component will be separated and measured. Once data are collected, determine which materials can be substituted, reused, or recycled.

Use a Waste Sort Worksheet such as one of the following to record your data:

Whether you just examine records or complete all three approaches, a waste audit is the first step towards moving your organization towards zero waste. Click here for a waste sort checklist.