Setting clear goals for your recycling program is a vital part of the process. Without them you have no definition of success and it will be hard to determine if your efforts are bearing fruit.
Before you can set goals however, you need to take a snapshot of your current waste habits and waste output. This becomes your baseline against which all future progress can be tracked.
Your First Waste Audit
Sometimes, simply called a waste assessment, a waste audit is a detailed appraisal of your total waste output. It measures the volume, weight and composition of your waste. A waste audit should also analyse the sources of your waste e.g. 1st floor, IT department, and the destinations for each waste stream, e.g. recycling companies, municipal waste collection etc.
Waste audits typically make an assessment of your total waste output based on waste collected from your facilities over a sample period of 1 – 5 days. The longer the sample period, the better your estimate will be.
The process is simple, but it’s dirty work:
1) Get cleaners or whoever empties the bins to clearly label each bag of rubbish with the source – e.g Showroom, men’s washroom, accounts department, 2nd floor kitchen, etc.
2) Making sure to follow OH&S guidelines for handling waste – think protective clothing, ventilation and contamination risks — sort the rubbish from each source area, by waste stream into different categories such as:
- Recyclable plastic
- Non recyclable plastic
- Printing & copying paper
- Magazines and marketing brochures
- Tissue paper
- Food waste
- Light bulbs
- Miscellaneous landfill
If there are any other noticeably large categories sort these too.
3) Record volumes and weights for each waste type and their sources. Make sure also to note which waste stream each type of waste has been assigned to – landfill, paper recycling, mixed recycling etc.
At the end of your waste audit you should end up with a spreadsheet that shows volumes and weights of your waste output broken down into categories of waste, sources of waste and designated waste streams.
Depending on the size of your organisation and the volume of waste you produce, the entire process can take anything from 4 to 180 man hours, or more. It’s unlikely that your regular workforce will relish the prospect of sifting through bags of festering rubbish on their hands and knees. However, if you can spare them and find willing volunteers, it will be better to have your own people to get first hand knowledge of your waste streams. Failing that, there’s no shortage of specialist waste auditing contractors and recycling companies offering auditing services. Some commercial cleaning companies offer waste auditing services too.
To make the estimate as realistic as possible, avoid conducting your waste audit during times when your operations are unusually quiet or busy. Similarly, make a point of keeping the waste audit as much of a secret as possible. People tend to act differently when they know they’re being observed. Announcing a waste audit may turn everyone into conscientious recyclers when the norm is to act differently.
If you’re not in the habit of shredding documents before disposing of them, confidentiality of one additional factor worthy of consideration. You might want to take steps ensure that no materials leave the waste sorting area and perhaps even ask for sorters to sign a confidentiality agreement.
Setting Recycling Goals
Most of us are familiar with the idea of setting SMART Goals. SMART stands for:
These are practical and useful attributes to build into your recycling goals.
Some Ambitious Long Term SMART Recycling Goals Worth Considering:
Major reductions in total waste volumes, e.g. by 50%, 75% or more.
Zero landfill – Vodafone Australia plans to go zero landfill in 2016. The UK branch of management and auditing giant PWC is already zero landfill, as are most GM and Honda car manufacturing plants in the US. On a larger scale, Germany is a zero landfill country! Think about it, how would “A zero landfill organisation” sound when tagged onto the end of your company name?
100% Recycling – we’ve yet to find examples of organisations who’ve attained this goal, but PWC UK is close and believes it will get there within the next couple of years.
Creating a Circular Economy around your organisation – the most ambitious of all recycling goals. This is where you have zero waste and your entire supply chain and output is zero waste too – everything is recycled.
Practical Short Term Goals
Having conducted a detailed waste audit and extrapolated your numbers out to provide an annual estimate, you’re now in a position make recycling goals SMART.
With your first set of data you’ll want to identify:
- Your largest waste categories
- Your largest waste sources
- How much you’re sending to landfill and and how much to recycling?
- Areas of low hanging fruit, where you can make big reductions for small amounts of effort?
- How do you measure up to widely recognised standards of excellence for waste stream apportionment? In other words, how close are you to a mix of 85-90% recycling and 10-15% general waste?
- How could you reduce or even totally eliminate your biggest waste categories? For instance, could your office go paperless? Could you change suppliers and radically reduce packaging waste?
- How can your largest waste producing areas sharply reduce waste?
- Are there any disposable items you can replace with reusable equivalents?
- Realistically, what can you achieve in the next month, six months, year?
- How often can you afford to run waste audits, so that you can check progress?
- Can you reuse any of your current waste – for instance can you sell unwanted items that are still serviceable, such as old computers, furniture, timber etc?
- Might a change of waste collection contractor improve recycling?
Areas Where You Can Make Some Easy Gains
- 100% duplex printing and printing reduction measures. PWC UK made huge reductions in paper usage by centralising their printing and copying devices.
- Switching from paper towels to clean, efficient electric hand dryers.
- Eliminate disposable cups from vending machines and other disposable utensils.
- Ban polystyrene take-away food containers from your premises. Polystyrene waste causes a disproportionately large environmental hazard as it breaks down and is totally unnecessary. If you’re a large business, it might be worth letting local takeaway food suppliers know.
- If you can find a local company that collects compostable waste, it’s well worth the having them collect your food waste and non-recyclable paper. Organic material is the primary cause of methane emissions from landfill waste. Methane is many times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. As such, removing organic waste from your landfill will make a big difference on your environmental footprint.
By examining your waste audit data and then going through these questions with your recycling team you should be able to come up with a set of SMART goals for the next 12 months as well as some more ambitious longer term goals.
In the 3rd and final part we’ll be looking at how to get your recycling program off to a good start and ways to make day to day recycling easier and more effective.