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Waste Assessment Approaches

Records examinations, facility walk-throughs, and waste sorts are three common approaches to conducting a waste assessment. Your assessment might require just one of these activities or a combination of approaches. The team should determine which assessment is best for your organization based on factors such as facility type and size, complexity of the waste stream, resources (money, time, labor, equipment) available to implement the waste reduction program, and scope of your waste reduction program.

Records Examination

Examining records can provide insight into your organization's waste generation and removal patterns. The types of records you might find useful include:

Records Examination Worksheet
Excel Spreadheet
Click to open or right click to download and save to your computer.

Instructions for Completion (PDF)
(3 pp, 61K, about PDF)

The worksheet above will help the team document background information regarding your organization's current waste collection and removal practices. The tables and formulas will enable the team to estimate your organization's annual waste generation and the costs of collecting and removing it for disposal, regardless of whether your organization is charged for the waste removal by weight, volume, or through a flat fee. In this way, the team can compile important baseline data against which potential waste reduction options can be measured.


Strengths

Limitations

  • Provides weights or volumes of waste generated
  • Tracks major potential waste from the point of origin
  • Identifies the most expensive or valuable components of an organization's waste
  • Documents financial benefits of reuse and recycling including total revenues and avoided disposal costs
  • Requires less time and effort than other approaches
  • Might not provide quantitative data about specific waste components
  • Does not provide qualitative data on how or why wastes are generated
  • Might require substantial effort to collect and analyze data

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Walk Through

A walk-through involves touring your organization's facility, observing different function areas or departments' activities, and talking with employees and managers about waste-producing, activities and equipment. A walk-through is a relatively quick way to examine a organization's waste-generating practices. Specifically, a walk-through will enable the team to:

Facility Walk-Through Worksheet
Excel Spreadsheet
Click to open or right click to download and save to your computer.

Instructions for Completion (PDF)
(1 pg, 41K, about PDF)

Use the Walk-Through Worksheet above to record the types of wastes produced, estimated quantities of waste generated, the source of the wastes, and any current waste reduction efforts. In addition, identify all materials that could be targeted by your waste reduction program and brainstorm ways to reduce, reuse, or recycle these products or materials. Make sure to indicate units of waste observed (i.e., pounds, tons), identify the time period for which you are capturing data, and determine how many of those time periods there are in a year.


Strengths

Limitations

  • Requires less time and effort than waste sorts
  • Allows first-hand examination of facility operations
  • Provides qualitative information about major waste components and waste-generating processes
  • Reveals waste reduction opportunities
  • Might not identify all wastes generated
  • Might not be representative if only conducted once
  • Relies on estimates of waste generation

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Waste Sort

A waste sort involves the physical collection, sorting, and weighing of a representative sample of your organization's waste. The goal of a waste sort is to identify each waste component and calculate its percentage of your organization's total waste generation. Waste sorts can focus on an entire organization's waste stream or target specific functional areas (PDF) (2 pp, 48K).

Some organizations choose to assemble and measure one day's worth of waste. Others choose to assemble a portion of the waste from each department for measuring. However you choose to structure the waste sort, the team should consider whether waste generation varies significantly enough from one day to the next to distort results. Multi-day sampling provides a more accurate representation of your organization's waste generation.

The team will also need to determine which waste categories to quantify. Typically, the major components of an organization's waste stream include paper, plastic, glass, metal, and organic material such as yard trimmings and food scraps. If possible, the team should strive to separate and measure the waste sample as completely as possible. These measurements will be useful when determining which materials can be exchanged, reused, sold, or recycled.

Waste Sort Worksheet
Excel Spreadheet
Click to open or right click to download and save to your computer.

Instructions for Completion (PDF)
(1 pg, 43K, about PDF)


The Waste Sort Worksheet above provides a detailed profile of the amounts and types of waste and recyclables generated at your facility. The step-by step instructions provide information on sorting, weighing, and recording data on the waste your organization generates.


Strengths

Limitations

  • Provides quantitative data on total waste generation and specific waste components
  • Requires more time and effort than other approaches
  • Might not be representative if only conducted once
  • Does not provide qualitative data on how or why wastes are generated

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