Services & Maintenance: Getting A Handle On Waste

By Jeffrey Klein, LEED®AP
Published in the February 2011 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

A waste audit will identify items such as cardboard and film plastic that could be diverted from a landfill. (Photo: International Environmental Alliance)
A waste audit will identify items such as cardboard and film plastic that could be diverted from a landfill. (Photo: International Environmental Alliance)

As the world moves toward a greener economy, more and more facility managers (fms) are tasked with creating sustainable waste management plans for their facilities. By diverting recyclable and reusable materials from their waste streams, fms help their organizations realize numerous economic, environmental, regulatory, and public relations benefits.

In the past, a facility’s trash was simply tossed in a multipurpose bin for collection and then transported to a landfill by the local waste hauler. Those days are over. Today, a facility has a true waste stream with many possible components. Items like cardboard, various types of paper, food and beverage containers, electronic waste, scrap wood, and other materials have specific regulatory requirements for handling, recycling, and disposal. Fortunately, a properly managed waste stream not only conforms to regulatory requirements, it helps an organization stay ahead of the sustainability curve, enhances positive visibility, and saves money.

The goal of a sustainable waste management program is always diversion. Simply stated, diversion means redirecting the waste from a facility that is currently going to the landfill into other end uses. Instead of landing in a trash heap, many items currently thrown away can be recycled, reused, “e-cycled,” or otherwise diverted.

Diversion comes with the added benefit of reducing a facility’s disposal costs. The majority of end uses for recyclable materials are less costly than landfill disposal fees, and some even bring added value.

When considering a waste diversion program, it’s important for fms to think about practical implementation. How can a program be initiated and maintained without disrupting facility workflow or demanding too much staff time? Outsourcing aspects of program development and management to a waste management provider can be an efficient and cost-effective option.

Waste Audit

The first step in developing a waste diversion program is to perform a facility waste audit. This can be undertaken in house, or fms can enlist a sustainable waste management provider to audit their waste streams, often at little or no cost.

facility management e-waste environment recycling services
Metals and other materials found inside computers and other electronics should be e-cycled. (Photo: International Environmental Alliance)

Every facility’s waste stream has its own characteristics. For instance, the waste composition of an office building is very different from that of a distribution center or manufacturing facility, and each of these facility types will target different items for diversion.

For a smaller facility, a waste audit can be as simple as looking at the contents of the trash container at different times of the day or week. Companies that specialize in assessing waste streams and providing extensive information can perform more comprehensive waste audits at larger facilities. However, a quick visual audit can tell an fm a lot about a facility’s waste stream. If the trash is in bags, the fm can tear a few of them open to see what’s inside.

Composting: A Fresh Take On Leftovers
By Patrick Geraty

Inspect the dumpsters used by the food service operation at a typical institution, and it is a virtual certainty that more than half of the waste they contain is organic food material. Facility managers (fms) who commit to recycling that organic material can literally turn trash into treasure. An environmentally responsible act becomes a win-win business practice as they reduce landfill dumping while cutting trash hauling costs.

composting commercial institutional facilities environment food service
(Photo: St. Louis Composting)

Food is typically recycled through a commercial food and organic composting program. The process is simple and scales well for facilities of every size. It involves separating organic food waste from nonrecyclable refuse at the time of disposal and placing it in separate collection bins that are picked up by a commercial food recycler.

What happens to food once it enters the recycling stream? Separated food waste is taken to a composting facility and mixed with other organic material. In about six months and with properly timed manipulation, it becomes garden ready compost that is used by local farmers to strengthen soils and by gardeners to grow fruits and vegetables.

Food recycling is feasible for any business or institution that manufactures, produces, prepares, or serves food. This includes restaurants, grocers, schools and universities, entertainment venues, and hospitals. But because every physical plant has differences in its operation, fms need to determine the food waste recycling option that will work best. One approach is to focus on capturing leftovers only where food is handled, such as kitchens and cafeterias. Another is to extend collection efforts campus-wide, spanning every building and office.

A surprising amount of food and material can be composted. Recyclable pre- and post-consumer food waste includes cheese; yogurt; coffee filters and grounds; fruit and vegetables; eggshells; stale bread; noodles; beef, poultry and fish; and wax coated cardboard and cartons. The food waste may be raw or cooked, whole or half eaten, or even scraps.

Another recyclable is compostable serviceware, including plates, utensils, cups, and napkins, all which can be discarded directly with the organic food leftovers. When purchasing compostable plastic, fms should always select ASTM D6400 material, the international standard.

Bringing Composting To The Table
Beyond the positive impact food recycling has on Mother Earth, there are multiple reasons fms should implement a commercial organics recycling program. Because organics are the heaviest material found in the daily garbage stream, removing them drastically reduces the price tag to haul off conventional waste. Trash will physically weigh less (one cost saving) and can be picked up less frequently (yet another saving). In general, food recycling is cost neutral (at worst) and often less expensive than regular trash hauling fees. While perhaps less tangible, favorable public perception is another potential benefit.

To launch a food recycling program, fms first need to locate an organics recycler. For recommendations, they can visit this link or contact a local composting or recycling association. As previously noted, the service provider will charge a collection fee—one that is probably in the ballpark of the fee charged by a hauler of conventional trash.

Next, fms need to disseminate information about the food recycling initiative to the workers responsible for separating food organics from nonrecyclable discards. Supervised, hands-on training is typically the most effective learning route.

Once the program is in full swing, training will need to be maintained as employees cycle on and off the payroll. Regardless, co-worker mentoring combined with clear instructions about what is and is not recyclable posted adjacent to separation bins should do the trick.

In 2011, businesses and institutions that handle food have a newfound opportunity to make a positive and lasting impact on the environment—and potentially save money in the process—simply by recycling waste food. Who would have ever guessed that leftovers could do so much good?

Geraty is president of St. Louis Composting, Inc. Founded in 1992, the St. Louis, MO-based company is the region’s largest composter and a leading provider of STA-certified compost

If there is a large enough quantity of any item, it can likely be stored, transported, and recycled efficiently. The amount of an item that crosses the “large enough” threshold to make recycling and diversion economically feasible varies based on facility size, location, and proximity of recycling facilities and vendors. Take a building that generates a small amount of waste scrap wood that fills up 10% of a standard waste bin each week, and the closest wood recycling vendor is 80 miles away. It would not be economically feasible or efficient for the fm to target waste scrap wood for recycling and diversion.

As a general guideline, if an item in the waste stream fills a standard four cubic yard waste bin at least once a week, an fm can safely assume it should be recycled. A waste management service provider can also help to determine which items to target for diversion.

Fms should be careful not to target items that would not regularly appear in the facility’s waste stream. For example, old HVAC filters that were changed and discarded on the day the waste audit was performed should not be targeted for diversion. This is because the filters will likely not appear in the waste stream again for six months or more.

The next step in the waste audit is following the path of waste throughout a facility. What happens from the time an item is deposited in a container until it ends up in the outside bin? Where is the trash deposited inside the facility? Who collects facility trash, and where does it end up for collection by the hauler? What happens when there are large items, like cardboard boxes, that don’t fit into trash containers? The fm should also note all non routine items like computers, electronic devices, batteries, and light bulbs that are being discarded. [Read more about lamp recycling here.]

The answers to these questions will form the blueprint for a sustainable waste management plan. They will also be vital to the internal communication and training necessary to make the program an ongoing success

Storage, Transportation, And Value

Once fms decide which items to target for diversion, they must determine if there is an efficient way to store and transport the items and if there is a readily available market in the geographical region. If the cost of diversion, transportation, and recycling is less than the cost of disposing of the item in the landfill, the value to the organization will be in reducing the trash hauling and disposal costs.

There is a practical limit to the number of recycling bins that can be placed in a limited space for collection and storage within a facility. For instance, a small facility targeting office paper, cardboard, film plastics, wood, and beverage containers would require five separate containers, perhaps making the diversion program difficult to implement and maintain. Instead, this facility should consider recycling vendors that accept mixed grades of paper with bottles and cans in one recycling bin. This way, the facility will have more success implementing and maintaining the program and increasing diversion.

Outsourcing this process to a sustainable waste management provider can be a good option for some facilities. With large networks of haulers, recycling facilities, and other diversion partners, these service providers can help fms find the most efficient and cost-effective end uses for the materials in their waste streams.

Putting A Program In Place

Proper communication and training is vital to a successful, sustainable waste management program. An fm may develop a great program, but if employees, staff, customers, and others who frequent the facility don’t know how to participate, it won’t function effectively. Communication and training ensures everyone involved knows what materials are included in the program and how recycling collection operates. Communication can be accomplished through e-mail notices, signage around the facility, and employee meetings or training sessions.

Recycling containers must be made available throughout the facility, and fms must ensure adequate containers are available in convenient locations to maximize diversion and not disrupt workflow. Ideally, there should be a recycling container beside every trash container. While this is not always possible, the more convenient it is to participate, the more successful a diversion program will be. Most people want to do the right thing; they just don’t want to stop and search for a recycling container in order to participate.

Maintaining And Reporting

Once a waste diversion and recycling program is fully implemented, a plan must be put in place for long-term monitoring and maintenance to make sure it continues to be effective. An important aspect is regular reports on the status of the program. If a facility’s recycling volume is decreasing, the program is losing traction and diversion is decreasing.

Proper program tracking and reporting is also vital for meeting various internal and external regulatory requirements, including LEED certification.

Fms can share program successes by updating stakeholders on its progress. When employees see rising diversion rates, they are encouraged to participate. When customers read about a facility’s actions on the web and in the media, they see the organization cares about the community. And a waste management provider can help with creative ways to share successes.

Facilities Of The Future

Forward thinking fms are realizing sustainable waste management isn’t just a good idea—it’s an economic and regulatory imperative. In the emerging green business landscape, what used to be just trash is actually a resource. As fms seek ways to cut costs and increase efficiency while driving their facilities into the sustainability future, a properly planned and implemented recycling and diversion program is one step to take with great rewards.

With more than 20 years experience in waste reduction and recycling management, Klein is chief operating officer and founder of International Environmental Alliance (IEA). Headquartered in Tustin, CA, IEA is an international, full service waste management, recycling, and diversion services provider for organizations of all sizes and types. The company has alliances with The Boston Group, DC Environmental, Boston Plastics, Boston Group Mexico, and Recover Incorporated.