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Waste audits: A simple guide for businesses

Being a sustainable business involves understanding the types and amounts of waste arising from your day to day operations. By following this simple guide, you will be able to set your business some waste reduction goals, increase the amount and types of wastes that are recycled, and evaluate whether you can eliminate certain wastes altogether.

Step 1: Assemble your team and agree a 'waste audit week'

Ask for volunteers to help with the task and agree a date and time (a morning or afternoon at the end of a week should be enough) to complete it.

Step 2: Determine your waste categories

Before you begin, write a list of what you consider to be the main business wastes associated with your business.

Common Waste Audit Categories:

· Paper

· Cardboard

· Plastic bottles

· Other plastic

· Aluminium cans

· Glass

· Food waste

· Materials packaging

· Signage

· Display materials

Step 3: What is needed for a waste audit?

  • A sheltered area for sorting rubbish

  • Rubber gloves, face mask, and tongs (optional) for each volunteer

  • Labelled boxes for sorting each waste category

  • Bathroom scales for weighing each category

  • Paper and pen to recording your findings.

  • Bin bags for re-bagging your waste after the audit.

Step 4: Start the audit

Here’s how to conduct the audit:

  1. At the end of the week, round up all the general waste and recycling from your building. If you’d like to gather department-specific data, label different bins accordingly.

  2. Weigh all the bags and note down the total weight to get a baseline for how much you throw out each week.

  3. Weigh all the recyclables and note down the total.

  4. Wearing gloves, sort all materials into the boxes for their categories. If you labelled your trash by department, make sure each has separate boxes.

  5. As you work, note any recyclables mixed in with trash.

  6. Once everything has been sorted, weigh each category.

Step 5: What to do with this data?

There are two ways that you can derive meaning from the data you have collected: waste diversion, and by category.

Calculate and record your waste diversion rate (amount you have ‘saved’ from landfill by recycling) using this process:

Divide the weight of your recyclables by the combined weight of all your waste (general waste + recyclables).

Multiply the result by 100.

This gives you the percentage of waste you divert from the landfill each week.

Compare the weights you recorded for individual waste categories.

Which categories score highest?

Did the highest categories differ between departments?

Did you find any recyclables mixed in with the trash?

Were there any types of waste you didn’t anticipate?

Don’t lose track of this waste audit report. As you take steps to reduce waste, these numbers will become a powerful marketing tool you can use to show customers how hard you’re working at greening your operation.

Now you can set some targets based on this data. You can decide to reduce the amount of total waste going to landfill by a % amount; reduce a certain type of waste (i.e packaging waste); or increase the amount of waste that is recycled. The choice is yours.

Finally, make sure you communicate these targets with your colleagues and install the relevant posters, signage, and receptacles to encourage behaviour ch

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