How-to OR how-to-NOT conduct a waste audit

July 15, 2010

WOW. I don’t even know where to begin.

Consider this a “how-to” perform a waste audit post; however, as the narrative unfolds, perhaps it will be interpreted more as a “how-to-NOT” perform a waste audit. UG!

Ok, yesterday I attempted to conduct Dordan’s first “waste audit.” To recap, the point of conducting a waste audit is to determine exactly what kind of waste your company generates in order to start outlining an action plan for achieving zero-waste. Because we are looking to reach zero-waste, we obviously need to know what kind of waste we generate in order to find a way to recycle it, reuse it, or switch it to a more recyclable material. Ya dig?

And to recap my recap, this all started with Dordan’s CEO saying he wanted to get a composter. In my last post I explained how in search for the “right” composter I learned that I needed to figure out how much “compostables” we generate in order to determine the kind and size of composter we should buy. After all, there are like a million different kinds of composters with different volume requirements and what not. Therefore, I came to the wonderful conclusion that we needed to conduct a waste audit.

Not to tout my own horn or anything, but I consider myself a pretty tough cookie; that’s why the idea of single-handedly jumping into our central dumpster and pulling out the different material types to weigh didn’t really intimidate me. After all, as long as I had gloves and a mask and other protective gear, it should be a piece of cake, right?

I approached yesterday full of optimism. Thanks to the helpful insight of my network, I had compiled all the necessary “tools” to perform my waste audit:

I had a scale, capable of weighing material up to 250 lbs;

My trusty pen and pad of paper, to write down the various materials and corresponding weights;

My pretty pink tub that would hold the different material types thereby allowing me to weigh said material;

And, a funny marshmallow suit, super duper gloves and a face mask. Look, I am positively pumped!

Around 10:30 yesterday, after taking an early lunch of a hot dog with everything, a cheeseburger with everything, a fry and coke (I knew I would be exerting myself and therefore wanted to consume the most nutritious meal I could envision), I approach Dordan’s central dumpster, ready to dumpster dive.

This is what I had to work with:

After lowering myself into the rather full dumpster (trash pick up comes twice a week; therefore, I waited until it was its fullest prior to pick up so I could get the most accurate data), I began sifting through our waste.

To start, it wasn’t all that bad. Most of the stuff in the dumpster was industrial waste, like cardboard, dirty plastic scrap that we can’t recycle, plastic strapping, metal bits from whatever, plastic rejects, heavy brown paper, etc.

See, here’s a bin full of wood-scrap, not scary at all:

Here I am still looking rather optimistic, with a bin full of plastic film to weigh:

As the time past, however, and I kept…

Jumping in the dumpster;

Throwing the desirable material type out of the dumpster;

Climbing out of the dumpster, which got increasingly difficult based on the ever-declining volume in the dumpster;

 “Binning” the desired material in my pink bin;

Weighing the bin;

Throwing the contents of the bin into another bin so as not to throw the material back into the central dumpster, whose bottom I was determined to find;

And; doing it all over again with other materials…

It got really, really, really, really hot. I don’t think I can stress how hot it was—no air conditioning, a ninety degree day, direct sun, stinky garbage, plastic suit, latex gloves under heavy-duty gloves, and constantly jumping in and out and in and out and I think you get the picture. If not, I have conveniently included one below!

Going to the office to cool down mid-audit

After 5 hours of this (literally, I am not exaggerating) I realized that the end of the day was fast approaching and I had not even gotten to Dordan’s wet waste i.e. food waste, bathroom waste and office waste. Luckily this waste was bagged prior to being tossed in the central dumpster so it was easy to isolate this waste from the more “industrial waste,” described above. Due to the ever-impinging time constrains and my desperate need for a shower prior to sitting on the Metra for an hour and a half, I decided, with the input of our office manager, to put our un-weighed “wet waste” in our now empty garbage cans to be dealt with tomorrow (which is now, today). We stashed these wet waste bins in an air conditioned room in the plant so as to attempt to preserve their “freshness.”

The next day, which is conveniently, today, I got suited up again, with the hopes of going through our wet waste in order to determine how much of it is food waste, office paper, paper towels, etc.

I pulled the wet waste garbage bins from the air conditioned room in the factory. I re-collected all my auditing “tools” i.e. scale, bin, etc. I laid down a tarp, (which was really plastic bags tapped to the floor), and began ripping open the various bags. See:

And another glam-shot:

This is the wet waste after emptying on the tarp:

While it may look harmless, it was actually super duper duper gross: there were maggots, flies, other creepy-crawlers, super gross smells, soiled everything, and whatever: trash. Enough said?

I started to panic/have a minor breakdown. I quickly started lumping the paper towel waste with the food waste (it was impossible to segregate; everything was soiled with everything else), which conveniently contained a ton of maggots, and throwing them in the not-so-pretty-anymore pink bin, to attempt to weigh.  

My attempt to weigh a wet waste bin…cleary no segregation of materials:

This lasted for about a half an hour until I realized that this was not going to generate accurate data because everything was commingled past the point of recognition. After getting as good of a reading as I could without vomiting all over myself, I threw everything back onto the makeshift tarp, took up the corners, and threw in the central dumpster. This, however, did not go as smoothly as I envisioned, with some wet waste spilling onto the factory floor in front of the dumpster.

After that I did the I-got-ants-in-my-pants dance back to the office, where I jumped into our un-heated shower.

SO GROSS.

WAAAAAAA

So this is what all my misery can now teach you, my packaging and sustainability friends about how-to-conduct your first waste audit.

Try NOT to conduct a waste audit on a super hot day.

Have someone HELP you. I envision my non-existent assistant standing outside of the dumpster, collecting the material I throw out, weighing it, and moving it to another bin. That way I wouldn’t have to keep jumping in and out and in and out again.

Get a bigger bin to weigh the desired materials in (I spent a lot of time breaking the corrugate down to a size I could stuff in the bin).

Get a ladder to place in the dumpster to allow you to climb out of, if no assistant is available.

Get a REAL tarp; not plastic bags tapped together and to the floor.

Try not to sweat all over your notes; it makes the ink run and your data confused.

Have water handy.

And, if possible, prior to conducting your first waste audit, have your employees SEPARATE their food waste from their food packaging and their paper towel waste for at least a week. This way, it won’t all become this solid mass of grossness keeping you from getting an accurate reading of the food waste versus paper towel waste versus food packaging waste.

Ok, I feel as though I have vented a bit and can resume being a normal person. People are right, writing is a good release!

Tune in tomorrow to learn what I do with the results of our first waste audit.

One Response to “How-to OR how-to-NOT conduct a waste audit”

  1. What a day! Stay safe.

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