By Jeff Roney
Facility management professionals are looking at ways to achieve the goals they set for 2020. For some, increasing revenue is at the top of the list while others are looking to cut costs or providing a safe and healthy environment. What you may not know, is that a good waste audit can be a ticket to supporting all of the above.
It’s easy to overlook the enormous return on investment (ROI) for waste audits, because they don’t exactly have a glamorous reputation. However, waste audits can be pivotal in helping you reduce costs while generating revenue. A manufacturing company, for instance, may not realize that it’s only capturing 75% of its cardboard and leaking 25% in the trash. A waste audit will identify the leakage, enabling the company to get reimbursed for the recovered cardboard while reducing the cost of sending unnecessary trash to the landfill.
A good waste audit can also help with purchasing decisions. If you understand the number of recyclable materials that are going out the back door, you can reevaluate what you purchase on the front end. The resulting savings can make a huge difference to the bottom line.
When companies realize how much recyclable material is going into the trash, that can be a big “a-ha moment.” Other companies may experience more of an “uh-oh moment” when they learn they’ve unintentionally violated local regulations by sending prohibited materials to the landfill. In some cases, companies have learned that some of their waste included hazardous materials, exposing the business to costly fines and other penalties.
Not only can a waste audit help companies see the error of their ways, it can help them see a way forward to building a brand founded on sustainability. In this era of climate change and increased awareness surrounding environmental issues, a reputation for corporate responsibility can really boost a company’s brand and create loyal customers. This kind of goodwill starts at the local level with residents who appreciate efforts to divert waste from the neighborhood landfill. When you’re dealing with a larger company that operates across the country, small local changes have a huge benefit when they’re rolled into a national program. At the same time, bad press about dumping hazardous waste in the local landfill can make your brand toxic.
Given their potential ROI, it’s important to know what goes into a well-done waste audit. At the most basic level, a waste audit provides a snapshot of a company’s trash at a specific moment in time. The process begins by dividing waste into substrates — plastic, paper, metal, etc. Once you know what you’ve got, your auditors will weigh everything and calculate the total volume. From there, the audit can separate waste into recyclable commodities, hazardous wastes, and garden-variety trash. The audit will also track where everything is going and identify any areas of non-compliance.
After The Waste Audit
At this point, many companies thank their auditors, make some changes, and cross the audit off their to-do list. However, approaching waste audits as a one-and-done exercise can lead to lost opportunities. When it comes to waste, there’s a lot of variation in the types of trash a company generates over time. To get the full value of a waste audit, you need to conduct them at regular intervals so that you can measure any changes in waste production, evaluate whether training and recycling programs are effective, and make any necessary changes.
While regular waste audits are best practice, the recommended frequency varies by situation. For some companies, annual audits won’t be enough to give them the desired ROI. For other companies, quarterly audits might be overkill. When determining the optimal frequency of waste audits for your company, engaging the services of an expert can really help you maximize the benefits of this process. Experts can also advise on data gathering and analytics, recommend changes in disposal practices, promote staff commitment to recycling programs, and develop an effective training program.
Most companies can probably develop capacity to conduct in-house audits, but the logistical challenges of gathering and analyzing data, tracking waste, and monitoring programs can be daunting, particularly for companies that deal with complex industrial waste or operate multiple facilities at different locations. In many cases, a company with expertise in waste services can handle all the “dirty work” of gathering and sorting trash and compiling analytics, allowing clients to focus on their core operation.
When looking for a third-party specialist in waste management, you want to pick a company with a lot of experience conducting waste audits. Having somebody who can do the necessary reporting is also crucial. Consider putting available technologies to work. The use and aid of mobile apps are speeding up auditing processes and provides quick, accurate reporting. Most critically, the company must provide that all-important follow-up to make sure changes to your program are getting the desired results. Without follow-up, there’s not a lot of benefit to conducting a waste audit.
Although the goals of a restaurant may vary from those of a retailer, businesses in any sector can benefit from a waste audit. To maximize ROI, organizations should perform audits regularly, track the results of any changes that are made, and modify the program as needed. The resulting value in terms of cost savings, increased revenue, and brand awareness will be a cause for celebration that is evergreen.
Roney is vice president of operations for RWS Facility Services, a provider of comprehensive facility management services, that include commercial waste management, landscaping, HVAC repair, and more. He has over 20 years of industry experience in various roles with increasing responsibility in operations, account management, procurement, human resources, and business development. Across North America, RWS serves some of the largest companies in food service, retail, commercial, multifamily and manufacturing.
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