How a Waste Audit Can Help Save Your Business Money

Waste Management transfer station in Reno, Nevada, NV
••• Photo © Stan White

Have you ever thought to audit the waste your business creates? Whether you run a restaurant, grocery store or another business, waste reduction is an opportunity that is often overlooked. If you aren’t paying close attention to your waste costs, you could be tossing savings into the trash.

To provide insight into how lucrative a waste audit can be, Great Forest, a sustainability consultancy, audited the waste stream of 100 business across the U.S. It found that a lot of recyclable material was being left in the trash. Only 23% of the waste being thrown out was actually non-recyclable. The other 77% was comprised of organics (34%), paper (23%) and e-waste (1%).

Meanwhile, San Francisco’s belief in the value of waste audits in curbing waste is so strong that the city unanimously passed an ordinance in December 2018 that requires larger waste generators such as major supermarkets and retailers to conduct waste audits every three years.

Audit Your Waste Stream

By auditing your waste stream, you will gain valuable insight into what is being tossed, and if there are opportunities for diversion. For example, if significant amounts of recyclable materials such as paper and stretch wrap are present in the trash, diverting these materials might add up to being early wins in your reduction efforts. Armed with such information, your recycling efforts can sometimes receive a boost through even simple changes such as more accessible placement of recycling/organics bins in your shop. Another trick could be color coding or clearly labeling different bins to avoid confusion about which of them to use.

Auditing your waste stream can be done internally, or with the help of a third party provider. Some waste management firms have the technology available to generate granular data on every facet of waste in your business. One of these providers is Columbus-based Elytus, a waste services company which offers its WINStream software to provide greater insights into waste-related opportunities. Detailed audit information provides insight into everything from packaging to grease and oil and will provide actual percentages and dollar value of waste. It’s a great option for understanding the full picture of how waste can impact your bottom line.

Audit Your Hauling Schedule and Bin Fill Level

Another important audit element is to make sure that the trash hauler is not making needless visits to haul away partially empty bins. Examine your frequency of pickups and ensure your containers and bins are only being collected when they are full. Change the collection frequency or timing if you notice that garbage bins are not full when picked up. Less frequent pickups not only save money but also reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with waste hauling.

Monitoring of bin fill level can also now be done remotely. The use of bins equipped with fill sensors and an Internet of Things (IoT) monitoring system provides an easy way to make your waste stream management more efficient. The bin sensors detect the fill level and automatically notify the waste hauler via the Internet when to dispatch a truck. While purchasing smart bins can come across as pricey upfront, they ultimately help optimize long-term waste hauling costs.

Use Audit Results to Make Upstream Changes

Aside from using an audit to identify opportunities for waste diversion through recycling, this activity also helps to identify other opportunities for improvement. For example, a supermarket or a restaurant with an excessive amount of distressed fresh produce in its trash or organics bins speaks to potential issues involving procurement, preparation or inventory control of those products. Specialized software such as Winnow can provide valuable data regarding the type and amount of food waste to help restaurant operators reduce their losses.

Likewise, excessive packaging waste might speak to the opportunity of collaborating with suppliers to reduce or reuse packaging or to switch to easier-to-recycle or compostable options. In a similar vein, an excess of scrap in the waste stream of a manufacturing plant might indicate that costly production inefficiencies need to be corrected.

The elimination of waste is being increasingly recognized as an important way to reduce cost and support sustainability. Undertaking a thorough waste audit is an important first step in this direction.