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Reducing Your Office's Waste Footprint

Updated: May 6, 2020

Conducting a Waste Audit

While many of us are social distancing these days by working from home, there will be a day when we return to the office. Offices can generate a lot of unnecessary waste, and tackling that waste can build environmental awareness, foster a culture of conservation among employees and lead to cost savings. A waste audit has several purposes: It can help you (1) identify where your office waste is coming from (2) understand what the biggest sources of waste are and (3) establish a baseline if your goal is to reduce your office’s waste footprint. If you want to better understand your office’s waste footprint, you have several options. The processes described below are focused on single-use plastic office waste.

  1. Purchase Order/Invoice Audits: Purchase orders allow an organization to understand how much single-use plastic is being ordered for general office use. Once a baseline quantity is established, another purchase order audit can be performed annually to determine reductions.

  2. Waste Audit: Conducting a waste audit allows the organization to capture the single-use plastic footprint of employees as well plastic waste generated by day to day operations. It also provides an opportunity to communicate about this initiative and have employees begin to participate in the process.

Protocols for Conducting a Purchase Order Audit

Step 1: Identify areas/departments and items of concern within the organization. Examples of items of concern include Styrofoam or plastic cups, disposable coffee cups and stirrers, coffee pods, plastic utensils, water bottles, and plastic binders.

Step 2: Consider tracking both quantity of single-use plastic items and their total weight in pounds.

Step 3: Collect twelve months of purchase orders (noting the start and end dates) and identify the quantities of single-use plastic items purchased.

Step 4: Weigh each single-use plastic item (sometimes the weight of the item is listed on the invoice) and extrapolate annual weight.

Step 5: Repeat this process annually to determine how much single-use plastic has been eliminated from the organization.

Protocols for Conducting a Waste Audit

Step 1: Select Waste Audit Captain and/or team

Step 2: Identify the area(s)

where the waste audit will take place (e.g. kitchen, breakroom, copy rooms)

Step 3: Identify timeframe (usually a week)

Step 4: Announce the waste audit, send reminders leading up to the week of the waste audit and during the week, and post signage in designated areas to encourage participation

Step 5: Provide bins lined with clear plastic bags to collect each type of waste to be audited and put signage with sample photos above and on each bin:

• Plastic that can be recycled

• Plastic headed to landfill

• Other recyclables

• Other trash

• Compostables if applicable

Step 6: Ask everyone to throw their plastic waste in the appropriate bin

Step 7: Weigh trash in bins every day and record weight (either weigh trash + bins and subtract weight of empty trash can or weigh trash in bag/liner and subtract weight of plastic bag/liner)

Step 8: Calculate the weight for a week and extrapolate to get annual weight

Once you have conducted your waste audit, you can implement strategies to reduce your office waste footprint. Start by eliminating unnecessary disposable items, and replace single-use items with reusables. You can encourage employees to bring lunch from home in reusable containers or to order lunch from restaurants with environmentally-friendly to-go ware, contract with a local composting service, or purchase a Terracycle Zero Waste Box for your hard to recycle items. Our team has experience conducting waste audits, identifying opportunities to reduce your office’s waste footprint and implementing solutions. Give us a call today to learn more!

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