Services & Maintenance: Breaking It Down

Aluminum cans are a common waste item and can be part of single stream recycling. (Photo: Waste Management)

By Matthew Coz
Published in the February 2012 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

The pace of change continues to accelerate, and each year facility managers (fms) are, to various degrees, coping with how to handle an increasingly complex set of waste streams. Activities in the recycling and sustainability arenas can be likened to a game of dominos; once the first one falls, the last one will eventually tip into the facility management (FM) space in the form of either new regulations or new recovery opportunities. There is an increasing number of decisions that need to be made as fms evaluate their material recovery options.

Whittling The Pile

Historically, handling waste outputs from facilities came with a pile management mentality where service providers removed an undifferentiated group of materials at the lowest cost possible. The driving criteria for success were cost and service, without compromise on either. It was a relatively low bar to get over at the base level.

Gradually, value extraction—the result of the recognition that waste can have a resource value—became commonplace as a system infrastructure for collecting and processing evolved to pick away at and recover predominant pieces of the waste stream, most notably cardboard. It was easy for fms to isolate this material, typically with the assistance of a waste management provider—sometimes with a revenue return to the material generator.

This system set in place the concepts (and challenges) that are now part of every organization, big and small, and it has resulted in the creation of a new class of materials known as segmented waste.

The recovery of cardboard is now the “price of admission” into the sustainability arena, and the aforementioned system infrastructure serves as a guide to the successful development of any program that aims to lower costs and/or expand sustainability initiatives. The time tested process involves: materials identification (waste audit), material segregation planning, facility operation modifications (introducing containers and collection points), training of responsible parties, selection of service providers, and material collection and transport to a processing facility for material treatment.

For any material introduced into this process, it is important to understand that when it leaves the facility, the successful recovery (treatment) is based on three guiding principles. To maximize the effectiveness of the process, fms should ensure that their service providers have access to:

  • an efficient and established reverse logistics network that can collect and transport the materials;
  • available and approved (certified) recovery locations where the materials will be aggregated and processed; and
  • end use options for the recovered and processed materials.

If any portion of this chain is incomplete or not fully developed, the complexity (and cost) of the recovery effort will increase.

This may sound straightforward; however, complexity enters the scenario when segmentation comes into play. This requires a tool belt of strategies to create a successful program with full consideration to compliance and sustainability.

Data Is King

Whether conducted internally or with the assistance of a third party, baseline data must be collected in the form of a waste audit. The audit serves as the first critical step in moving away from the practice of pile management and towards a data driven review of how to handle the waste generated at a facility. In most cases, a successful audit will allow fms and their service providers to establish a plan of attack. The audit also serves as a quantifying tool for fms to measure against and will help corroborate the data derived from program implementation.

When launching an enterprise wide waste management plan, similar locations are audited and can be used as a proxy for the balance of the facilities.

The audit lays out the game plan, and the execution alternatives center on what materials can be combined into strategically located receptacles to facilitate further consolidation and collection by the service provider.

Currently, big impacts are being achieved with the advent of “total recycling programs” which allow for the combination of traditional recyclables (e.g., cardboard, office paper, mixed paper, bottles, cans) into a “single stream” format. This approach saves time, facility space, and collection costs, and it has become a viable approach in many areas as the aforementioned system infrastructure has developed to accommodate the items. Training is simplified, and participation is generally high, which leads to increased diversion and the potential for reductions in both hard and soft costs.

The “little piles,” or segmented waste, (e.g., batteries, electronics, medical wastes, bulbs, ink and toner, phones) typically require more training, containers, and, depending upon the materials, an eye towards regulatory compliance. While there may be local options for some of these waste streams, mail back programs have emerged to fill a void with options for collecting and packaging the materials, coupled with the existing reverse logistics infrastructure of major carriers.

Providers of these services offer an increasing number of recovery options for both regulated and unregulated wastes. These programs can service one or 1000 facilities and are generally agnostic relative to location.

After expending the efforts to initiate and execute a recovery project, the final critical step for fms is to record and track the overall progress and savings. Service providers should give fms minimum reporting analytics that show monthly activity across all materials collected (as well as reconciliation of costs and rebates where appropriate). Online reporting portals may also be available, and these allow for up-to-the-minute review of the material portfolio under management, with associated metrics that include pounds (or tons) recovered per employee and carbon based measurement.

In all instances involving regulated wastes, this reporting becomes critical for compliance management activities. And these reporting protocols become a focal point from a cost perspective, but they also take on enhanced importance as a communications tool with employees and senior management. The information around this subject shows that a feedback loop for the program status positively influences behavior and drives additional recovery opportunities and employee engagement.

The data feedback can also become a tool for customer engagement. For many organizations, maintaining some level of communication to the customer about sustainable business practices is seen as a differentiator.

Over the years, how fms dispose of the waste generated at their organizations has become more complex. Regulatory demands from external forces have increased in past decades, while internally, many organizations have become more stringent about how waste is handled—for environmental and financial reasons. Identifying waste streams and working with a qualified service provider to execute a plan enables fms to get a handle on their waste.

Coz is vice president, growth, commodity sales, marketing at WM Recycle America, a Houston, TX-based provider of comprehensive waste management services in North America.