Every night in every business in every city nationwide, cleaning crews and waste management teams empty trash cans, recycling bins, and dumpsters. They collect the paper, plastic, and food waste discarded during business hours. You may not think twice about these items once you toss them aside. Their fate is out of your control. However, taking a closer look at the amount and type of waste that your organization produces can tell you a lot about the effectiveness of your operations. It can even help you improve your purchasing decisions.

What is a waste audit?

If you have never been involved in a waste audit, you may not be familiar with the process. In a waste audit, experts take a detailed inventory of what you are throwing away and what you are recycling. The contents of the trash and recycling bins are sorted, cataloged, and weighed to determine the volume and the value of the waste produced.

In a typical office setting, most of the trash is organics, such as food waste. It makes up nearly 34% of what is thrown out. The second-largest category is paper, which is likely not surprising. Despite the abundance of technology used in modern offices, paperwork still reigns supreme. About 23% of office waste consists of paper products. Metal, glass, and plastic follow closely behind at 19%. Only 23% of the waste produced in the average office is non-recyclable trash.

Why do a waste audit?

The waste audit findings above represent a typical office building. However, the results for your business will likely be different. How your office differs from these numbers may be the most intriguing information you gain from the waste audit, but the actions you take as a result of those findings are the most vital piece of the puzzle.

  1. Environmental Impact – An audit can help determine your environmental footprint and identify areas to make changes to reduce that footprint.
  2. Measure Materials – Auditing your waste allows you to quantify the cost of the materials used in your operations. How much of the supplies you buy are used up, and how much ends up in the trash can?
  3. Set Goals – Once you know where you are falling short, you can set goals to improve recycling efforts or develop new processes that produce less waste.
  4. Monitor Progress – You are more likely to achieve your goals if they are measurable. Repeating your waste audit in the future provides concrete evidence that implemented changes are making a difference.

What are the benefits of doing a waste audit?

Learning to Limit Expenses

Waste products cost companies money when they come in the door and when they go out the door. For example, when you buy boxes of printer paper, you pay the office supply store for the paper. Employees use it to print out memos, budgets, presentations, and much more. When they no longer need the documentation, it gets discarded.

All too often, office documents find their way into the trash can and eventually the dumpster that the waste management company empties at the end of the week. You pay to have your waste removed from the premises. The more waste you produce, the more it costs to haul away. Encouraging recycling can help reduce the cost of hauling away more material than necessary.

Improve Office Practices

You can reduce your waste management expenses by cutting back on either the supplies purchased or the waste generated.

Options for cutting back on waste could include the following:

  • Educate employees about which products in the office can be recycled. The rules regarding what can go in the blue recycling bin vary from one company to another and from location to location. Take the time to learn the rules and communicated to everyone.
  • Purchase recyclable products over non-recyclable ones. For example, styrofoam coffee cups are a cheap option for many offices. However, these cups do not decompose and are an environmental nightmare. Instead, choose insulated cups made from recycled paper or plant-based materials that can compost with the organic waste.
  • Look for office supplies that come with less packaging or recyclable packaging. Have you ever opened a big box labeled facial tissues to find the company used several layers of boxes to send the boxes to you? This type of bulk packaging creates unnecessary waste that you have to dispose of. Look for companies that ship supplies with minimal packaging.

Increasing Revenue

Some recyclable products are worth money to other companies. Copper wire, scrap metal, and wine bottles are just a few examples of materials that may be worth money to the right buyer. If you generate trash that someone else will buy, you may be able to produce another revenue stream for your business by separating it from the rest of the trash. Waste tire recycling plants operate on this idea. They collect old tires that are not useful to trucking companies, tire shops, and motorists and turn them into valuable products such as rubber mulch and tire-derived fuel (TDF).

Digging through your commercial waste may not be at the top of your list of ways to save money. If you do a thorough audit, though, you may find ways to make money, save money, and improve the way you do business. You can reduce the amount of trash you send to landfills and make your day-to-day operations more environmentally friendly.