Conducting a waste stream audit is a great way of finding out how much waste a building generates and if items that could otherwise be recycled are being thrown out instead. Once you can quantify what you are throwing out, you can work more effectively to reduce your waste and recycle more. A waste stream audit is also an effective way to benchmark your waste use. In the future additional waste audits can be performed to evaluate the effectiveness of waste reduction plans you have implemented.
For an entire week we collected all of the waste from the trash and recycle bins in the building. We did not tell any of the building occupants that we were performing the audit, so they would not change their normal waste behavior. The following week, we opened the bags, separated everything and then weighed it all. All of the waste was separated into one of the following categories:
Plastics, metal, and glass from recycling bins
Cardboard to be recycled
Plastics from trash bins which could have been recycled
Metal from trash bins which could have been recycled
Cardboard from trash bins which could have been recycled
Paper from trash bins
Food waste from trash bins
Electronics (cell phone charger, battery, etc) from trash bins which could have been recycled
Non-recyclable material from trash bins (“true garbage”)
What did we find out from our “dumpster diving”? We found out that during the week of the audit, our office generates 139.3 pounds of trash to be sent to landfills and 17 pounds of recyclables. It was surprising to find out that of the139.3 pounds of trash, 13 pounds could have been recycled. At the time of the audit, we did not have paper recycling in place, but we are currently working on implementing a paper recycling program in our office. Paper waste made up 73 pounds of the 139.3 pounds of trash. This audit showed us that simply by recycling everything we could, we could easily cut the amount of waste we generate by more than 50%.
Following the waste stream audit, we announced the results to the office and even had a contest to see who could guess the correct amount of recyclables that ended up in the trash. Many co-workers flooded our e-mail accounts with suggestions for reducing waste in the office, such as printing double sided and using non-disposable plates at lunch meetings. We shared all of these suggestions with the entire office. After we implement a paper recycling program, we plan to do another waste stream audit to ensure that our program and other efforts have been successful.