According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), manufacturing facilities and commercial buildings are responsible for nearly half of the 167 million tons of waste that wind up in incinerators or landfills each year.1 There are many things that facility managers, building owners and property managers can do to improve or enhance their sustainability efforts. Listed below are five best practices for managing, tracking and reducing waste.
#1 Conduct a Waste Assessment. Tracking the amount of waste your organization generates is the first step towards making meaningful change. By tracking the amount of recycling and waste hauled from your building you can monitor two important variables 1) data on the amount of waste produced and 2) your recycling rate. You may also be able to dive a bit deeper by working with your hauler to find out what your recycling contamination rate is and whether some of what is thrown away can be donated or reused.
#2 Identify Potential Waste Reduction Activities. After reviewing the results of your waste assessment, consider your options for preventing, recycling and reducing waste. Waste prevention eliminates waste at the source by reducing, reusing or donating items that can be salvaged. For waste that cannot be prevented, the next step is to evaluate recycling and composting options.
For example, balers are great for compacting large amounts of recycled material into manageable, easily transportable bales. Many balers are small enough to be placed on every floor of your building, but large enough to hold hundreds of boxes. Orwak Multi Chamber balers allow you to create a mini recycling station so you can recycle multiple types of materials including: cardboard, plastic, shredded paper or even aluminum. Balers can be stored in or outside your facility.
Another option for commercial buildings is managing food waste using aerobic digesters. Orca aerobic machines can "digest" up to 2,400 pounds (over 1 ton) of food waste per day. Depending on the machine you select, they can process 25-100 pounds of food waste per hour and can divert 95-378 tons of food waste per year from landfills.
Orca aerobic digesters work by mixing food, water and recycled plastic Bio Chips together to quickly break down food waste into earth-friendly water that can be diverted into the municipal sewage system.
#3 Set Clear and Measurable Goals. Once you have evaluated your options, work with your team to set waste management goals. It is important to give your team a clear understanding of what they are trying to accomplish. In most cases, it will be their responsibility to gather the data and monitor progress towards the goal.
Some of the most common waste management goals are: Increase recycling rate, increase diversion rate, decrease pick-up costs, decrease contamination of recyclables or implement a cost neutral solution for your building(s).
#4 Use Leading Benchmark Technology to Track Your Program. One of the most exciting things to happen in waste management in recent years, was the addition of waste management to the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager - a tool that you may already be using for managing energy and water usage.
In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added waste management to its ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager so that commercial sustainability teams could manage energy, water and waste from one, secure, online tool.
“Unifying energy, water and waste under one virtual “roof” is a sustainability game-changer for many companies.” This “tracking trifecta”, according to ENERGY STAR, “is a powerful way to streamline your sustainability management program and gain a bird’s eye view of your environmental footprint and resource costs.”
Within the waste section of the Portfolio Manager, materials are managed in four groups 1) disposed 2) recycled, 3) composted and 4) donated/reused. Reports can show you progress over time as well as how different buildings compare to each other in each of the four areas. This is important for many commercial entities are looking to share and report standardized results.
#5 Share Your Success. Managing, tracking and reducing waste are essential for conserving resources, slowing climate change and minimizing environmental impacts on the materials we use. Once you have found a strategy that works, share your success so that others can follow your example.
Lisa Cassidy is senior strategist and founder for ecoImagine.