Business Fact Sheet for Reducing Solid Waste: Selecting, Implementing and Monitoring Waste Reduction Options

The information collected in the waste assessment (see end of article for link to Business Fact Sheet for Reducing Solid Waste: Conducting a Waste Assessment) now can be used to list, analyze and choose appropriate waste reduction measures for your company. This fact sheet will help the team consider both the operational and the economic feasibility of the options under consideration, as well as the extent to which they will help achieve the goals of your waste reduction program. In addition, this fact sheet also discusses the process of implementing your program and monitoring it over time to evaluate progress.

The key steps of selecting, implementing, and monitoring waste reduction options are:

  • Compiling and screening the options
  • Analyzing and selecting the options
  • Implementing the options
  • Educating and training employees
  • Monitoring and evaluating the program

Compiling and Screening the Options

Using the findings from the waste assessment, the team should list all the possible waste prevention, recycling, composting, materials exchange and purchasing measures that it feels might be effective. This list should be compiled based on the goals of your waste reduction program. For example, if your company hopes to reduce waste removal costs as much as possible, and is charged for waste removal based on volume, the list of options should focus on high-volume waste materials. Brainstorming sessions among team members can provide additional options. Managers and employees who participated in the walk-through also can be consulted for more ideas, if necessary.

After all potential options have been identified, the team should screen them based on criteria such as whether the options will substantially reduce waste removal costs, reduce purchase costs, have low start-up costs or are likely to boost employee morale. Companies may weigh these criteria differently based on the particular goals of their program. This initial evaluation and screening will help you identify a subset of options that deserve further analysis and possible inclusion in your waste reduction program.

Analyzing and Selecting the Options

Once a short list of waste reduction options has been identified, the team should begin the process of deciding which options are the most appropriate for your program. During this evaluation process, the team should be clear on the relative importance of the different criteria against which the options are being measured. Depending on your company's waste reduction goals, for example, cost-effectiveness may not always be the overriding criteria for selected options. Other criteria, such as improved environmental awareness, employee morale and community relations, may be equally important. In addition, teams whose companies feel cost-effectiveness must be a key criteria should be sure to consider the long-term economic feasibility of an option. While the team may be inclined to disregard a particular option with large start-up costs, the measure may end up yielding impressive savings over several years.

In addition, after completing the evaluation of these options, review the long-term feasibility of the program as a whole. Successful programs can be designed around complementary options that take advantage of their different strengths. Before removing any items from consideration, for example, consider whether certain waste reduction efforts may, over time, save enough money to pay for other waste reduction activities that improve environmental awareness, employee morale, or community and customer relations.

Some options might not require extensive analysis. For example, if your facility already has a copy machine with the ability to make two-sided copies efficiently, then a policy mandating double-sided copying usually can be implemented easily. On the other hand, you will want to carefully analyze complex options that require a significant change in operations or large capital investments. For instance, a food service considering a switch from disposable to reusable serviceware needs to assess factors ranging from the cost of new equipment and added labor expenses to the savings from reduced waste removal costs and the avoided purchase of disposable serviceware. The health and sanitation aspects of such a switch also should be considered. For complex options, the team will want to contact suppliers, product refurbishers, packaging designers and any other person who could help determine if the option is feasible. These people also can help pinpoint any unforeseen obstacles or complications that could hinder implementation.

When Evaluating Your Options

It is important that the waste reduction team thoroughly review the potential effects of each waste prevention, recycling, composting and purchasing option. While a strong consideration is likely to be whether the option's costs are justified by potential savings, the waste reduction team also should consider:

  • Effects on product or service quality and product marketing
  • Compatibility with existing operations
  • Equipment requirements
  • Space and storage requirements
  • Operation and maintenance requirements
  • Staffing, training and education requirements
  • Implementation time
  • Effects on employee morale, environmental awareness, and community relations

Waste Prevention Options

When analyzing and selecting specific options, team members should focus first on waste prevention, which will enable your company to eliminate some of its waste. After studying your company's waste generation and management practices, you will likely have compiled a number of waste prevention options.

One waste prevention option may result in savings in several different areas, including avoided purchasing, storage, materials handling and removal costs. For example, switching to double-sided copying can result in cost savings associated with reduced paper purchasing, reduced space necessary for paper storage, reduced employee time associated with handling paper and filling paper trays, and reduced paper packaging removal costs. Be sure to consider savings in each of these areas when evaluating waste reduction options.

Recycling Options

Next, evaluate the recycling options the team has identified to better manage waste that cannot be prevented. Before implementing any recycling option, the team needs to consider the marketability of the materials to be collected. To locate potential buyers, contact local recycling companies. Consult the local phone directory (under "recycling"), trade associations, chambers of commerce, and state or local government recycling offices for assistance. When conducting preliminary contract discussions with local buyers and haulers, there are a number of questions you should ask (see Questions You Should Ask Potential Buyers Of Recyclables, listed below, for a starting list).

Be sure to carefully weigh the cost-effectiveness and potential operational effects of your recycling options. Recycling programs, especially more ambitious efforts, often require purchases of equipment like containers, compactors and balers. Additional labor also might be required. Moreover, steps might be necessary to ensure that contamination of collected materials is minimized. Some companies also may have to pay a fee to have their collected recyclable material removed. In many cases, however, the savings and revenues (such as reduced removal costs and revenues from selling collected materials) will offset these costs. In addition, consider whether the new recycling program will affect current purchasing practices. For instance, your company might want to begin buying exclusively white legal pads instead of yellow ones to take advantage of the strong market for white office paper. Also examine the extent to which internal collection, transfer and storage systems are needed and whether these new systems will be compatible with existing operations.

Questions You Should Ask Potential Buyers Of Recyclables

When meeting with recycling companies interested in purchasing your collected materials, there are a number of issues you should discuss, including:

  • What types of recyclables will the company and how must they be prepared? Recycling companies might request that the material be baled, compacted, shredded, granulated or loose. Generally, recyclers will offer a better price for compacted or baled material. Compacting or densifying materials before transporting also can be a cost-effective method of lowering hauling costs for the buyer.
  • What contract terms will the buyer require? Discuss the length of the potential contract with the buyer. Shorter contracts provide greater flexibility to take advantage of rising prices, while longer contracts provide more security in an unsteady market. Often, buyers favor long-term contracts to help ensure a consistent supply of materials. The terms of payment should be discussed as well, since some buyers pay after delivery of each load, while others setup a periodic schedule. Also, ask whether the buyer would be willing to allow changes to the contract over time, The buyer might want some flexibility as well; in many cases, the buyer will be willing to pay a higher rate in return for a stable supply of quality materials.
  • Who provides transportation? If transportation services are not provided by the buyer, you will need to locate a hauler to transport materials to the buyer. The local phone directory, local waste haulers, and state or local waste management authorities can help provide this information.
  • What is the schedule of collections? If the recycling company offers to provide transportation, check on the frequency of collections. Some businesses might prefer to have the hauler be on call, picking up recyclable when a certain weight or volume has been reached. Larger companies might generate enough recyclable material to warrant a set schedule of collections.
  • What are the maximum allowable contaminant levels and what is the procedure for dealing with rejected loads? Inquire what the buyer has established as maximum allowable levels for food, chemicals or other contaminants. If these requirements are not met, the buyer might reject a contaminated load and send it back to your company. The buyer also might dispose of a contaminated load in a landfill or combustor which can result in your company incurring additional costs.
  • Are there minimum quantity requirements? Find out whether the buyer requires a minimum volume before accepting delivery. If a buyer's minimum quantity requirements are difficult to meet, consider working with neighboring offices or retail spaces. By working together it might be possible to collect recyclables in central storage containers and thereby meet the buyer's requirements.
  • Where will the waste be weighed? Ask where the material will be weighed, and at what point copies of the weight slips will be available. Weighing the material before it is transported will eliminate the problem of lost weight slips and confirm the accuracy of the weight recorded by the buyer.
  • Who will provide containers for recyclables? Buyers should be asked whether they will provide containers in which to collect, store, and transport the material, and whether there is a fee for this service.
  • Can "escape clauses" be included in the contract? Such clauses establish the right of a company to be released from the terms of the contract under conditions of noncompliance by the buyer.
  • Be sure to check references. Obtain and thoroughly check the buyer's references with existing contract holders, asking these companies specifically whether their buyer is fulfilling all contract specifications.

Composting Options

If the team discovers that yard trimmings or other organic matter make up a significant percentage of your company's waste, evaluate the feasibility of "grasscycling" or composting. Most companies can benefit by "grasscycling" -- leaving cut grass on the lawn where it will decompose quickly and help add nutrients that improve the quality of the lawn. Though not necessary, a mulching mower can cut the grass clippings into smaller pieces, allowing them to decompose more quickly. Your company will save time and money by no longer bagging the clippings, and will reduce its disposal fees.

If your company has available outdoor space, onsite composting can be used. Companies with composting programs usually find them to be a cost-effective method for turning lawn trimmings into a product that may then be sold or used on company grounds. The team can design a program to collect all types of organic materials into piles for composting, or a simpler program designed to compost just yard trimmings might be used. If the local municipal government operates or participates in a composting project, offsite composting also may be an option. A program can be designed to collect and store organic materials and, if necessary, haul it to the composting facility. Even when hauling is necessary, however, these programs also tend to be cost-effective.

To determine if composting is appropriate for your company's waste reduction program, it is important to calculate likely startup and ongoing expenses against projected savings at the outset.

In addition to grasscycling and composting, other practices can reduce yard trimmings at your facility and should be considered by the team. The team can investigate the possibility of chipping other ground debris, like branches, into mulch. The mulch can be used on company property to reduce weeds and conserve moisture around plantings. Other options include planting low maintenance plants. Slow-growing species and evergreen trees generally do not create large amounts of debris.

Purchasing Options

During the waste assessment, the team may have noted purchasing changes that could help reduce waste, from buying supplies with reduced packaging to careful inventory control to avoid over ordering and possibly throwing away perishable items. In addition, during the team's exploration of local recycling markets, the need for favoring products made with recycled content also may have become evident. In any business, many opportunities exist to use the company's buying power to reduce waste and encourage the growth of recycling markets. To identify specific changes in purchasing that your company could adopt, the team might contact its suppliers and discuss alternative products that would meet the new purchasing criteria. Check with other suppliers, as well, to see what they may be able to offer. In addition, various industry groups, state solid waste agencies, and federal information services can help identify ways to reduce waste through product purchasing and sources of products made from recycled materials.

After you have identified opportunities to purchase recycled products and products that can help you reduce waste, each item should be evaluated in terms of availability and cost. Reduced waste and recycled products do not necessarily cost more than other products. For example, while paper made from recycled fibers was once considerably more expensive than virgin paper, the price of paper with recovered content today is competitive with traditional paper. In addition, be sure to compare recycled or reduced waste products to other products on the basis of long-term costs, rather than purchasing costs alone. For example, while benches and picnic tables made from recycled plastic may initially cost more than their wooden counterparts, they last up to four times longer and do not require maintenance. Similarly, while reusable products may cost more to purchase initially, they often save money over time by avoiding frequent purchases of single-use items.

Implementing the Options

Having determined the initial waste reduction measures to adopt, the team should now begin to implement the measures. Consider building your program slowly, implementing a few options at a time, so employees are not overwhelmed by changes in procedure. This is particularly important for more complex waste reduction programs. Building slowly also provides an opportunity to identify, assess and solve any operational problems in the early stages. If a program involves only a few simple measures, however, it might be possible to implement all options at once.

Educating and Training Employees

As the team begins to implement the waste reduction program, it is essential that all employees be informed about the program and the importance of their cooperation and involvement. Be sure to update employees regarding the options being implemented, changes in work patterns or equipment, expected benefits, and their roles and responsibilities. These messages can be conveyed in a variety of ways, including:

  • Staff meetings and training sessions.
  • Employee newsletters.
  • Posters, signs or flyers.
  • Notices on e-mail.
  • Special events, such as slogan contests, cash awards, or other recognition for waste reduction activities.
  • New employee orientation.
  • Job performance standards.

Some companies can effectively reach all their employees by circulating memos or holding informal meetings. Larger businesses might need to conduct a full-scale education or training campaign to be sure their entire company is aware of and involved in the program. These outreach techniques also should be used to keep staff up-to-date on the program's successes and problems. Employees will feel a greater stake in the program if they receive frequent updates on the quantity of waste being reduced, reused, or recycled; the recycled products being purchased; and the cost savings that have resulted. These reports also might impress management, increasing their commitment to the program.

Another method of sustaining employee interest is to encourage them to submit new ideas for increasing the efficiency of company operations. You also might consider asking employees to help with program implementation. These employees could notify program coordinators or monitors when recycling containers are full or oversee waste reduction measures such as double-sided copying in their department to ensure that everyone understands and complies with the policy.

Monitoring and Evaluating the Program

Waste reduction is a dynamic process. Once the program is underway, the team will need to evaluate its effectiveness to see if preliminary goals are being met. In addition, once the potential for reducing waste in the company becomes better understood, consider establishing long-term goals for the program. It is important to evaluate the program periodically to:

  • Keep track of program success and to build on that success (e.g., waste reduced, recycling rates achieved, money saved).
  • Identify new ideas for waste reduction.
  • Identify areas needing improvement.
  • Document compliance with state or local regulations.
  • Determine the effect of any new additions to the program.
  • Keep employees informed and motivated.

The best way to assess and monitor program operations is through continued documentation. Perform your first evaluation after the program has been in place long enough to have an effect on your company's waste generation rate, usually about one year. In addition, it might be worthwhile to conduct additional periodic waste assessments to determine further changes in your company's waste. If an assessment already has been performed, subsequent ones will be much easier to conduct. Consider reviewing as well your company's waste removal receipts and purchasing records (look back at your target items), or preparing a summary of recycling receipts and waste assessment worksheets.

Waste Reduction in Your Workplace and Beyond

Many companies are finding that waste reduction makes economic and environmental sense. By working with other employees in your company as a team, you can devise and implement a successful waste reduction program. Not only can such a program look good on the bottom line, but it also can reflect well on your company.

Waste reduction isn't something you have to leave at the job, either. Spread the message to "reduce, reuse, and recycle" at home and in your community, too.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

Featured Webinar