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How To Conduct A Waste Audit

Introduction

What is a waste audit and why do one?

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
  • reduced waste management costs
  • better use of limited natural resources.

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.

Types of waste audit

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.

How do you do an 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:

What are the objectives of the audit?

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
  • to measure effectiveness of existing waste management systems
  • to identify opportunities for improving waste management systems and strategies
  • to collect baseline data for measuring the effectiveness of waste minimisation strategies.

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.

Do you have people to help?

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.

Table 1: Time and resource estimate for different organisations
Type of office/ building Number of staff Number of days waste is collected Number of trained sorters Time to do sorting
Small regional office, single story <20 5 2 1 – 5 hours
Medium sized agency with three stories <100 5 6-8 1 – 2 days
Large agency, multi-story building 450 – 500 5 2-5 3 – 5 days

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.

Steps to do a waste audit

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.

2. COLLECT the waste from the study area

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.

3. SORT the waste into different categories and record the data

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.

4. ANALYSE the data and write up the results

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.

Table 2. Waste Auditing: the four parts

PLAN

1. Define the study area Set audit objectives
Determine location(s) to be audited
Determine types and approximate quantities of waste to be audited
2. Collect background information Visit location(s) and record:
  • number of employees in study area
  • number, types and locations of bins
  • types of waste seen
  • who empties bins and when
3. Prepare for the audit Collect auditing equipment
Brief/train cleaners and sorters
Finalise waste collection details
Double-check locations of bins

COLLECT

1. Collect the waste Collect all waste daily
Label bags showing location and day
Record relevant collection details
2. Transport the waste to the sorting area Store waste on-site if possible
Otherwise transport to secure location using a licensed transporter

SORT

1. Prepare the sorting area Cover tables with plastic
Set up tables and scales
Collect buckets, bins, brooms, etc.
Have water and first aid kit on hand
2. Sort the waste Weigh each bag
Carefully open bag and spread waste
on table
Sort into different material categories
Count and weigh individual materials
Record findings on data sheet
Dispose of sorted waste
Repeat for all bags
3. Final clean up and decontamination Dispose of sorted waste
Clean off tables
Clean buckets and other equipment
Sweep and disinfect floor
Shower and change clothes

ANALYSE

1. Enter and analyse the data Enter data sheets onto spreadsheet
Do calculations
2. Prepare an audit report Prepare audit report, including findings and recommendations

 


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