Why and How You Should Conduct a Waste Audit

As manufacturers, distributors, and end-customers become more environmentally focused, one area that often gets overlooked is waste.

As manufacturers, distributors, and end-customers become more environmentally focused, one area that often gets overlooked is waste. Waste, as we are using the term here, generally refers to trash and things we throw away every day. For businesses and organizations, the amount of waste generated and disposed of can be considerable. And, the costs to remove this waste can also be considerable. For these reasons and more, organizations are encouraged to conduct what are termed “waste audits.”  

Since more distributors are playing such a central role in their clients’ business operations, adding consultative and value-added services that cannot be replicated or offered by a big-box retailer or an online e-commerce site, they have a better understanding of how much waste their clients generate, where and how it can be reduced, and what benefits can be derived once it is.

A waste audit measures the quantity, volume, and composition of waste generated by an organization. Leave it to say that except for some recycling initiatives, it’s an issue that probably was not even given a passing thought a decade or two ago but is now becoming a key issue when considering a facility’s overall environmental footprint. Distributors should be aware that conducting a waste audit can take various forms. The most general is a simple walk-thru where the distributor and the client walk-thru the office, food service areas, restrooms, and industrial or warehouse sections of a facility to get a visual estimate of how much waste is being generated in a facility and where. Or, it can become much more detailed. 

In some cases, the walk-thru involves an item-by-item account of what type of waste is generated where, when, and how much (by weight, for example).  It can also become fairly expansive, tracing back to see how much energy and waste was used and generated in the production of an item, where the product was manufactured, and if any environmental considerations were in place to produce the item.

Whether the waste audit is relatively simple or comprehensive, distributors should look to achieve essentially the same goals when consulting with customers. These are:

  • Financial savings for the organization (by reduce waste)
  • Enhance efficiencies within the organization
  • Encourage members of an organization to become more “waste focused”
  • Better management of resources
  • Reduce an organization’s environmental footprint
  • Improve an organization’s standing in its community.

Convincing the C-suite

Distributors encouraging their clients to become more waste responsible will likely find considerable interest. After all, an efficient waste disposal program can increase the amount of paper, plastic, and metals that are recycled, which reduces air and water pollution, helps curb global warming, and conserves natural resources. This makes it a “good” thing, however, when the concept filters up to the C-suite, the question distributors will most likely have to answer is how a waste audit and a more efficient waste disposal program can actually save the organization money.   

Fortunately, there are several ways. At the top of the list: in most cases, where waste generation has been reduced, the number of trash pick-ups to a facility can be reduced. For a large business operation, this can prove quite significant. In addition, many items that can be recycled can be sold to recyclers, creating a new revenue stream.

We can see an example of what can be accomplished by examining steps taken by the San Diego Wild Animal Park. As a result of a waste audit, the park determined that it generates more than 23,000 tons of waste annually. Historically, most of that waste ended up in landfills. But today, it discards only four percent of this waste into landfills. The park implemented a comprehensive recycling program, reuses cartons and other packaging materials for other purposes, and incorporated several other steps. In total, these efforts save the park more than $1 million in hauling and landfill fees each year.

How to Conduct a Waste Audit

With some of the goals and benefits identified, what we need to discuss now are the basics on how to conduct a waste audit. Below are some of the steps, but we should note that an effective waste audit and the creation of an effective waste disposal program are typically not “one time” practices. Distributors and their customers must conduct assessments and implement changes as needed on a regular basis to ensure the program is being carried out correctly. This will also help identify new opportunities to reduce waste and enjoy the benefits that will result.

With that said, here are the key steps to a waste audit:

  • Make sure all involved with the waste audit are wearing protective gear, including gloves and goggles
  • Confidentiality is a concern; consider having participants sign confidentiality agreements
  • In addition to the distributor guiding the project, stakeholders that should participate in the audit include managers, custodial staff, and waste haulers
  • Waste collected should be sorted by date, where it came from in the facility, and type, such as paper, cardboard, recyclable and non-recyclable items, glass, metals, food waste, batteries, etc.
  • Determine total percentages of each type of waste – 50 percent paper and 12 percent packaging materials, as examples
  • Present the findings in a written report; the report can be used to help determine what items can be recycled, reused, used less, selected from renewable resources, etc.

Why Distributors?

If someone were to suggest that distributors advise their clients on how to conduct a waste audit five or 10 years ago, they would likely be dismissed as a “treehugger” at best. However, distributors are playing much different roles today with their clients than they were a decade ago. There are more knowledgeable, proactive customers who want to make fact-based, sustainable, cost-saving decisions.

And, in the professional cleaning industry, some distributors now have access to new web-based analytical tools. Using these systems, they can inventory all products currently used in a facility for cleaning and then, identify products that could be a cost savings for the client, be greener or more environmentally responsible, reduce waste, proven more effective, etc. This analytic tools can be used by distributors working in other industries and industry sectors such as government, hospitality, etc.

Essentially what this technology does is it allows the distributor to play a much more effective and more interconnected role with their clients’ business operations.  This is reflected not only in the items they purchase, but now how they are disposed of as well. The entire process elevates the role of the distributor like never before.

Michael Wilson is vice president of Marketing for AFFLINK, a global leader in supply chain optimization, providing clients with innovative process and procurement solutions to drive efficiencies in today’s leading businesses. He can be reached thru his company website at www.AFFLINK.com

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