09/01/2013

3 Ways to Improve Your Waste Diversion

Use a waste stream audit to reduce hauling fees and generate recycling revenue

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How high is your diversion rate? Many businesses can divert a significant volume of recyclables from the landfill, such as plastics, metals, glass, paper, cardboard, and food waste. Use a waste stream audit to set a benchmark for your recycling program and uncover revenue opportunities.

What do plastic bottles, soup cans, printer paper, cardboard boxes, light bulbs, glass containers, batteries, and food scraps have in common? They all have the potential to be recycled, but only if your business is prioritizing waste diversion.

Whether you have an established recycling program or you’re trying to motivate employees to use those blue bins, a waste stream audit is one of the best ways to verify your progress and expand recycling opportunities.

“It’s more than added recycling containers or signage,” says Miriam Zimms, director of program planning and development with Kessler Consulting, which specializes in waste solutions. “An audit evaluates and benchmarks waste stream volume, collection contracts, education and outreach, environmentally preferable purchasing, and measurement and verification.”

Use a waste stream audit to establish a benchmark for a new program or refine goals for an existing one. Chances are less trash in your garbage bins will also mean more money in your pocket.

1) Go Dumpster Diving
It may be a smelly proposition, but sorting through mounds of trash is the only way you can gain a sense of your waste volume.

The most common method is a waste composition sort, which includes a visual assessment of collected materials. Its goal is to document each waste stream your facility generates by weight and volume, says Patrick Leonard, manager of the Portfolio Services practice with Paladino & Company, a green consulting firm.

This informal audit, which can be done in-house or by a third-party professional, should be scheduled during times of typical waste production, such as a non-holiday week.

PG&E Electrifies Recycling Rates

Pacific Gas and Electric Company may be well known for powering millions of customers in California, but the utility provider is also committed to environmental leadership. With approximately 20,000 employees, waste management is a key undertaking.

To integrate efficient handling of non-hazardous waste into the company culture, PG&E has implemented a number of initiatives to prioritize recycling, says Karen Cochran, sustainability manager. The results are impressive:

  • 67 sites finished with a 78% diversion rate in 2012, which exceeded their goal of 73%.
  • Another 48 properties are being added in 2013 for a total of 115 recycling sites.
  • $620,000 has been saved since 2010 from recycling, which doesn’t include avoided costs due to waste management rate increases or added revenue.
  • Improved service yard practices have reduced monthly costs by 43%, or $46,000 a month.
  • 20 sites collect food scraps for composting.

PG&E has a third-party professional track its non-hazardous municipal waste streams on a monthly basis, reporting a diversion rate for each quarter. Materials are broken down by those recycled, composted, and sent to landfill. Waste volume is recorded in tons per individual sites and then the company as a whole.

Not only is progress tracked monthly and quarterly, but annual diversion rates are also compared against others for context.

“We look at diversion rates from cities, corporate sustainability reports from companies within our industry, and other businesses who are leaders in this area,” Cochran notes.

A key driver of PG&E’s recycling success is its emphasis on employee engagement. “You can have the best waste management program, but if people don’t participate or use the bins correctly, you’re not going to make progress,” stresses Cochran.

To support this, the company has developed a Green Ambassador program at many sites. The volunteers coordinate sustainability projects, one of which is proper waste handling and employee education about waste diversion.

“For example, we hold competitions in our headquarters that pit floor against floor in waste diversion contests. We count the bags every day for a month and then compare rates, rewarding winners with the highest and most improved rates,” Cochran explains. “This is a great way to educate employees and keep them focused.”

Beyond traditional recyclables, PG&E also targets materials in its service yards, such as conduit, metals, and construction materials derived from the company’s utility work.

“We’re working with several of our recycling and recovery companies to divert materials such as ceramics and cabling from the landfill,” says Cochran.

Moving forward, PG&E will also start looking at construction projects. Demolition and construction waste is already being diverted but without a central data collection process in place for tracking.

Currently at a 78% diversion rate, the company is on track to exceed its 80% goal for 2014.

Plan ahead for the following steps:

  • Divert waste to a central location (such as a loading dock) for one to two days.
  • Count all trash bags or containers.
  • Separate each waste type: trash, mixed paper, glass, metal, wet waste, compostable materials, and plastic.
  • Record the weight of each waste type.
  • Publicize the results to your occupants.

“Measuring current performance with a waste audit gives you a baseline for improvement,” Leonard emphasizes. “You can track actual month-to-month performance against this based on your vendor billing or reporting cycles.”

Use the data to help you increase diversion rates, right-size waste handling infrastructure, adjust removal contracts, and highlight occupant or janitorial education opportunities.

2) Clean Up Your Contracts
Not every visual audit has a trash-to-treasure outcome – your removal and recycling revenue contracts are major opportunities to uncover savings. But it’s rare for facility managers to be as focused on these fees as they are on their utility bills.

“I often find that building management doesn’t have a measurement system for their solid waste and recycling costs or recycling rates. They are often surprised by how much they’re paying when they calculate annual totals,” says Zimms. “When you consolidate this information into a spreadsheet or dashboard, you can begin to pinpoint improvement areas.”

For example, Zimms once had a client who was receiving recycling revenue share for cardboard, which was collected in a compactor.

The company was supposed to receive $60 per ton, but due to some minor plastic contamination, the cardboard fibers couldn’t be reclaimed – they were going straight to the landfill for almost a year.

Because no one had scrutinized the contracts and the contamination notification was buried in the bill, this change was overlooked. Not only did this complication result in lost revenue, but it negatively impacted the company’s diversion goals.

As important as correct invoices are, however, remember that they don’t tell the full story, stresses Karen Cochran, sustainability manager for Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

“They only reflect your current setup – how big your bins are, what type of waste they collect, and how often they’re picked up,” she explains. “Keep in mind that the hauler may assume those bins are 100% full. But an audit will often find that the materials are different from what they’re supposed to be or the bins are only partially filled.”

If your waste volume is lower than what you’re currently paying for, you can reduce dumpster pulls or the size of your bins, suggests Leonard.

You can also right-size your operations by increasing the number and location of recycling receptacles.

Another tactic could be to increase the density of your bales, which requires changing your baler technology, Leonard notes, but the payback can be less than three years.

You should also review how much waste is being brought into your facility in the first place. Strong purchasing policies can help to reduce the volume of cardboard and plastics that come as packaging, for example, Zimms recommends.


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Visit our website today to learn about the design flexibility of a Morton building and the endless possibilities of partnering with our designBUILD team.


Wood construction is both cost and energy efficient. Check out Morton Buildings and our designBUILD team online today to discover all the benefits of post-frame construction.


When choosing a metal-clad building for your next construction project, consider Morton Buildings, Inc., and their designBUILD team, we’ll make your dream a reality.

Bluebeam® Revu® simplifies digital facilities document management from design review to leveraging as-builts, maintenance manuals and O&Ms submittals.

We Can Help You Reduce Energy by 30%

Our mission is to help our customers manage their buildings' energy costs, improve reliability, and enhance performance while having a positive impact on the environment.
CLICK HERE to find out how.


 
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