How to Build a Robust Waste Management Program | ENGIE Impact

Overcoming Waste Management Program Challenges

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Trang Trinh Sustainability Waste Advisor - Americas
Julie Krodel Sustainability Waste Advisor
Waste Management
Waste Audit

The fundamentals of a corporate waste management program recall what many of us learned as children: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But despite this familiarity, tackling waste at large office buildings, across multiple sites — especially those in different regions with different regulations — and in a way that includes more modern challenges, goes beyond the basics. Here are some common aspects of building a robust waste management program.

1. Corporate Governance

As with any corporate decarbonization efforts, an effective waste management program must include both initial buy-in and ongoing support from leadership. Without executives who are setting clear standards, goals, and timelines, providing continual sponsorship, and embracing their accountability as part of the program, efforts to achieve zero waste are likely to fail.

Additionally, establishing green teams — groups of employees who are engaged in the local sustainability efforts, with clear responsibilities and authority for their sites — provides the ongoing governance necessary to ensure the vision established by the c-suite is implemented effectively.

Corporate waste management governance must blend top-down leadership with bottom-up collaboration to clearly define goals, find efficiencies across multiple sites, and implement standardization across locales where applicable.

2. Data Management

That unified approach and centralized oversight can also help overcome many of the barriers to data collection, analysis, and reporting. Common challenges around waste management data include:

Shared Spaces

Many companies lease spaces, often in large corporate office buildings that they share with other organizations. Waste services are not only typically managed by landlord — limiting the level of control a tenant may have — but those landlords may not be able to provide access to the unit’s waste data.

Multiple Vendors

Even for organizations that directly manage their waste services, each vendor has different reporting, billing cycles, fees, and their own customized templates — exacerbated across multiple sites or even countries. Manually standardizing and consolidating that data can be a huge undertaking.

Limited Expertise

Some corporate leaders or green team members involved in these programs may not have specific expertise around waste management — their role in these sustainability efforts is likely minimal in addition to their other corporate responsibilities — and are unaware of potential rebates or available cost savings, or unable to glean insights from the data they do have, or likely unaware of the latest local and relevant laws and regulations. Even those employees who may be particularly passionate about this topic and follow best practices in their homes may be surprised to learn why some materials are handled differently at work.

For a zero-waste program to be effective, it’s essential to have data about waste services and waste diversion in order to identify opportunities and make the necessary data-based decisions.

Organizations that are leased tenants can solve the data acquisition challenge using the people and resources they currently have by training their employees to conduct waste audits in-house. There are 2 types of audits that can provide critical data insight and inform a zero-waste program:

Weigh-In Audit

Bags from every bin are weighed on a monthly basis. Weight is coupled with office usage data (unique swipes or headcounts) to capture the per-person waste generation and diversion.

Waste Characterization Audit

By investigating the content of landfill, recycle, and compost waste, this type of audit can provide crucial insights into knowledge gaps and guide operational changes that can assist with reducing waste (for instance, if a lot of small condiment packets were found in the trash, the office can supply large containers of condiments in their fridge and encourage their employees to use those instead of asking for to-go packets).

For organizations with larger budgets, there are advanced technology solutions and waste consulting services that can help facilities with data collection and management, as well as Waste Characterization Audits (WCA).

3. Employee Behavior

Ultimately, much of the success of your corporate waste management program will come down to the behavior of employees — individually

and collectively. It’s essential to put the right infrastructure in place in order to facilitate:

  • Centralized waste stations instead of individual bins at desks to encourage sorting
  • Consistent bin and liner colors across the facility as a visual reminder
  • Environmentally preferred products (utensils, napkins, etc.) available for employee use
  • Internal resources to handle e-waste and other needs beyond typical day-to-day waste

In addition to an established waste management foundation, ongoing training, progress updates, encouragement, celebrations, and reminders — like posters throughout the facility — will help shift employee behavior to align with zero waste goals. Everyone should consider themselves a stakeholder in these efforts, and everyone rowing in the same direction is the only way to succeed.

Learn how one large healthcare system activated employees to support waste management efforts. Read case study →

Waste Management Moving Forward

Resources and options for a comprehensive corporate waste management program will vary from region to region and country to country. Some countries may not even have established recycling programs. But regardless of the current state, it’s time for all of us to build on those principles of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle we’ve heard our whole lives — maybe by expanding to increasingly common Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle, or rethink old assumptions, redesign old processes, and ensure all resources are valued for their highest and best use.

Creating a new waste management program can be overwhelming, especially if there is not one person driving the program. Bringing in outside waste management expertise can help guide you through the journey, and everyone can be a leader within your organization — helping oversee waste management implementation efforts. Take the time to learn what happens to your waste after it’s taken by your city or local vendor. Reach out to local governments to see how they’re tackling waste issues. And be an example to others by adjusting your behavior in a way that best supports your organization’s goals to achieve zero waste.

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