Finding a Way to Make Sense of “Away”: Revelations From A Waste Audit
As part of a waste audit for a large bank’s Corporate Challenge, Healthy Buildings was contracted to sort and weigh trash and recycling samples from four commercial office buildings. Healthy Buildings waste auditors will never think of “throwing something away” the same again.
A mass of some 50 garbage bags – a day’s waste for one office building (of approximately 1,000,000 SF), sits in a pile, off gassing an intense smell that cannot be ignored. The garbage is “far away” from where it started, but it never really goes “away”.
The sensory overload of the waste audit experience is overwhelming. The garbage trucks back into the bays of the transfer station emitting an ear rattling “beep beep beep” as the trucks unload the garbage; the backhoe comes in to compact the load into the wall with a screeching smash; in the process rolling over bottles and trash resulting in small explosions. The decomposition of banana peels and half eaten sandwiches coupled with day old milk at the bottom of disposable coffee cups, is compounded by soggy paper and wet paper towels. Adding intensity, the loads are moved by a backhoe and excavator resulting in massive dust storms.
The Healthy Buildings team is geared up in fluorescent yellow safety vests, hard hats, safety goggles, gloves and boots. We each grab a bag, throw it on the table, rip open the plastic and begin sorting. We encounter stacks of paper and an endless amount of plastic bags and marvel at how amazing it is that we manufacture and purchase so many materials that will be used for just a moment in time but will never go away. We find brand new water bottles, manila folders
in perfect condition, a computer mouse, employee awards; but most of all an endless stream of disposable coffee cups, stacks of recyclable office paper, hundreds of recyclable plastic bottles and food containers, piles of weightless but bulky polystyrene food containers, soggy and stinky compostable food waste, and mounds of candy and chip wrappers.
At the end of the day we have gained a profound understanding of typical commercial building occupants’ ease with the false sense of “away”, and we understand the detrimental nature of our consumption and disposal of materials in a system where waste is “out of sight and out of mind”.
Healthy Buildings offers waste auditing services in compliance with the LEED EBOM MRc6 credit. In addition, our reports shed light on what “away” looks like and presents a numerical, graphical, and image rich composition of a buildings waste, and in doing so makes the case for waste reduction opportunities which yield operational cost savings through modifications to the waste management program, service levels, and collection frequency.
This series of audits generated the following recommendations:
- Institute a composting program to include both food waste and restroom paper towels.
- Encourage cafeteria to utilize compostable containers in conjunction with composting program.
- Provide employees with reusable coffee mugs, in conjunction with a discount at the building cafeteria.
- Increase visibility of signage on recycling containers; including images and multi-language messages.
- Provide employee education programs on recycling.
For more information about Healthy Buildings Waste Audits, contact us.
Stay tuned for part two of this post on waste audits and cost savings.