How To Conduct A Waste Audit
A waste audit is a formal, structured process used to quantify the amount and types of waste being generated by an organisation. Information from audits will help identify current waste practices and how they can be improved. Being waste-wise can mean:
◦ a more efficient and effective organisation
Isn't picking through waste disgusting?
It's not as bad as you think. Waste audits are carefully planned and the safety of people conducting the audit is paramount. Sorting is done in ventilated areas and is carefully controlled. Sorters undertake safety training and use protective equipment such as tongs, gloves, masks and overalls. Waste is never handled with bare hands.
Audits can be done on any type of waste e.g. paper and office waste, municipal waste, commercial and industrial waste, construction and demolition waste etc. There are a number of different ways to conduct a waste audit, such as visual waste audits, waste characterisation, desktop audits and others. The type of audit you use depends on the type of waste, where it is and what you want to get out of the audit.
Organizations are encouraged to contact the EPA for more information on waste auditing. Audits can be done either in-house (using agency staff), contracted out or a combination of both. Before launching into an audit a number of issues need to be considered:
The audit's objectives will largely determine the waste types and physical locations to be audited. Some examples of audit objectives could be:
◦ to determine composition and quantities of waste being generated
Do you have management approval and support?
Management support is essential for ensuring the smooth completion of the audit, and means that any findings or recommendations are more likely to be considered and implemented. You will need to justify the time and resources needed to do the audit.
Unless you have a tiny office you will need others to help sort the waste. Some estimates of how long it takes to do a waste audit are provided in Table 1.
You may need to train others to audit their respective offices. Alternatively, temporary staff or professional auditing contractors can be used.
• Have all safety issues been considered?
Training, safety equipment and tetanus shots must be organised to ensure sorters are safe from potential hazards associated with handling waste. You will need to involve the agency’s occupational health and safety officer(s). The EPA can provide more information on safety issues.
• Are policies in place to protect confidentiality?
The confidentiality and privacy of documents or personal information found in the waste stream must be assured. No documents can be read or removed from the sorting area. If waste is to be transported to another location to be sorted then it must be stored and disposed of securely.
• Has the date of the audit been kept secret?
Staff must not know when the audit is happening, otherwise they may change their waste behaviours and audit results will not represent normal waste practices.
• Who is going to report results?
Analysing the data is also simple. There are computer programs available from the EPA to do most of this for you.
Addressing these issues will help the audit to run smoothly, and will protect the safety of staff and ensure that results provide an acccurate picture of reality. A robust, well run audit will enable management to make positive recommendations that will reduce the amount of waste generated by your agency.
Auditing waste is a relatively simple process but can be fiddly. The four basic steps to doing an audit are summarised here, and more detail provided in Table 2
1. PLAN the audit carefully and define the study area
Good planning is essential to ensuring the audit goes smoothly. You will need to get management support, define the objectives of the audit, organise people and deal with other issues raised as a result of the audit. This may take some time but the more effort you put in up front will pay dividends when the audit is under way.
Cleaners or waste contractors can collect the waste for you. You will need to talk to building managers and cleaning supervisors to get their support. Cleaners must have clear instructions about the types of waste they are to collect and how to label the bags to identify the source of the waste (that is, where it came from, e.g. `Level 1 kitchen', `Level 2 offices' etc). A trial run before the start of the official collection period is a good idea. This way you can step cleaners through the collection process and iron out any problems.
Sorting the waste is the interesting part. A basic layout for a sorting area is illustrated below. After the locations from which the bag of waste comes is recorded, the bag is weighed and emptied onto the table and sorted into material categories (e.g. glass, office plastics, metal etc.). Each category is then individually weighed and recorded. The table is cleaned and the sorted waste disposed of, and the process is repeated for the next bag and so on.
Once all the waste is sorted you will have a large number of data sheets showing the quantity of waste by material categories that was generated within each area sampled. This data is then entered into a database and analysed. Once analysed the results can be written up and recommendations made.