WRAPP facts - doing a waste audit
What is a waste audit and why do one?
A waste audit is a formal, structured process used to quantify the amount and types of waste being generated by an organisation. Information from audits will help identify current waste practices and how they can be improved. Being waste-wise can mean:
- a more efficient and effective organisation
- reduced waste management costs
- better use of limited natural resources.
Agencies also need to undertake waste audits to report performance in implementing their WRAPP plans. If you don't use your own staff for a waste audit, there are professional waste auditing companies that can do it for you. Alternatively, you can use a combination of both methods. Contact the WRAPP team for more information.
Types of waste audit
Audits can be done on any type of waste, for example paper and office waste, municipal waste, commercial and industrial waste and construction and demolition waste. There are a number of different ways to conduct a waste audit, such as visual waste audits, waste characterisation, desktop audits and others. The type of audit you use depends on the type of waste, where it is and what you want to get out of the audit.
An alternative to a full waste audit is a waste assessment, which avoids direct handling of waste materials and requires significantly less time and resources but still provides valuable information about the effectiveness of the waste and recycling systems in your agency. The WRAPP team has developed a Waste Assessment toolkit to assist agencies with planning and implementing office waste assessments. This toolkit includes a manual, training resources and an example of a waste assessment report.
Isn't picking through waste disgusting?
It's not as bad as you think. Waste audits are carefully planned and the safety of people conducting the audit is paramount. Sorting is done in ventilated areas and is carefully controlled. Sorters undertake safety training and use protective equipment such as tongs, gloves, masks and overalls. Waste is never
handled with bare hands.
Planning your audit
Before you start the audit there are a number of things to consider:
What are the objectives of the audit?
The audit's objectives will largely determine the waste types and physical locations to be audited. Some examples of audit objectives could be to:
- determine composition and quantities of waste being generated
- measure effectiveness of existing waste management systems
- identify opportunities for improving waste management systems and strategies
- collect baseline data for measuring the effectiveness of waste minimisation strategies.
Do you have management approval and support?
Management support is essential for ensuring the smooth completion of the audit, and means that any findings or recommendations are more likely to be considered and implemented. You will need to justify the time and resources needed to do the audit.
Do you have people to help?
Unless you have a small office you will need others to help sort the waste. Some estimates of how long it takes to do a waste audit are provided in Table 1.
Table 1: Time and resource estimate for different organisations
|Type of office/ building||Number of staff||Number of days waste is collected||Number of trained sorters||Time to do sorting|
|Small regional office, single story ||<20 ||5 ||2 ||1 - 5 hours |
|Medium sized agency with three stories ||<100 ||5 ||6-8 ||1 - 2 days |
|Large agency, multi-story building ||450 - 500 ||5 ||2-5 ||3 - 5 days |
Basic equipment for audits
- secure, well-ventilated work area sheltered from sun, wind and rain
- two to four large tables
- plastic sheeting to cover tables
- ten buckets/crates of different sizes
- barbecue tongs and rakes to sort waste
- accurate scales
- data sheets
- broom and disinfectant
- lots of garbage bags
- safety equipment and first aid kit
- plenty of water
You may need to train others to audit their respective offices. Alternatively, temporary staff or professional auditing contractors can be used.
Have all safety issues been considered?
Ensuring the safety of the sorters is critical. Involve your occupational health and safety representatives from the earliest planning stage. Training, safety equipment and tetanus shots must be organised to ensure sorters are safe from potential hazards associated with handling waste. The WRAPP team can provide more information on safety issues.
Are policies in place to protect confidentiality?
The confidentiality and privacy of documents or personal information found in the waste stream must be assured. No documents can be read or removed from the sorting area. If waste is to be transported to another location to be sorted then it must be stored and disposed of securely.
Has the date of the audit been kept secret?
Staff must not know when the audit is happening, otherwise they may change their waste behaviours and audit results will not represent normal waste practices.
Who is going to report results?
Analysing the data is simple. The WRAPP team can assist you with this.
Addressing these issues will help the audit to run smoothly, and will protect the safety of staff and ensure that results provide an accurate picture of reality. A robust, well run audit will enable management to make positive recommendations that will reduce the amount of waste generated by your agency.
Steps to do a waste audit
Auditing waste is a relatively simple process but can be time consuming. The four basic steps to doing an audit are summarised here, and more detail provided in Table 2.
1. Plan the audit
2. Collect the waste
3. Sort the waste
4. Analyse the data
1. Plan the audit carefully and define the study area
Good planning is essential to ensuring the audit goes smoothly. You will need to get management support, define the objectives of the audit, organise people and deal with other issues raised as a result of the audit. This may take some time but the more effort you put in up front will pay dividends when the audit is underway.
2. Collect the waste from the study area
Cleaners or waste contractors can collect the waste for you. You will need to talk to building managers and cleaning supervisors to get their support. Cleaners must have clear instructions about the types of waste they are to collect and how to label the bags to identify the source of the waste (that is, where it came from, e.g. `Level 1 kitchen', `Level 2 offices' etc). A trial run before the start of the official collection period is a good idea. This way you can step cleaners through the collection process and iron out any problems.
3. Sort the waste into different categories and record the data
Sorting the waste is the interesting part. After the location which the bag of waste comes from is recorded, the bag is weighed then emptied onto the table and sorted into material categories (e.g. glass, office plastics, metal etc.). Each category is then individually weighed and recorded. The table is cleaned and the sorted waste disposed of, and the process is repeated for the next bag and so on.
4. Analyse the data and write up the results
Once all the waste is sorted you will have a large number of data sheets showing the quantity of waste by material categories that was generated within each area sampled. This data is then entered into a database and analysed. Once analysed the results can be written up and recommendations made.
Table 2. Waste auditing: the four parts
|PLAN ||1. Define the study area |
- Set audit objectives
- Determine location(s) to be audited
- Determine types and approximate quantities of waste to be audited
| ||2. Collect background information |
Visit location(s) and record:
- number of employees in study area
- number, types and locations of bins
- types of waste seen
- who empties bins and when
| ||3. Prepare for the audit |
- Collect auditing equipment
- Brief/train cleaners and sorters
- Finalise waste collection details
- Double-check locations of bins
|COLLECT ||1. Collect the waste |
- Collect all waste daily
- Label bags showing location and day
- Record relevant collection details
| ||2. Transport the waste to the sorting area |
- Store waste on-site if possible
- Otherwise transport to secure location using a licensed transporter
|SORT ||1. Prepare the sorting area |
- Cover tables with plastic
- Set up tables and scales
- Collect buckets, bins, brooms, etc.
- Have water and first aid kit on hand
| ||2. Sort the waste |
- Weigh each bag
- Carefully open bag and spread waste
- Sort into different material categories
- Count and weigh individual materials
- Record findings on data sheet
- Dispose of sorted waste
- Repeat for all bags
| ||3. Final clean up and decontamination |
- Dispose of sorted waste
- Clean off tables
- Clean buckets and other equipment
- Sweep and disinfect floor
- Shower and change clothes
|ANALYSE ||1. Enter and analyse the data |
- Enter data sheets onto spreadsheet
- Do calculations
| ||2. Prepare an audit report |
- Prepare audit report, including findings and recommendations
For more detailed information on each of the steps contact the WRAPP team.
Page last updated: 04 July 2011