Sorting Through the Trash

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Looking to expand your recycling efforts and lower your waste disposal bill? Industry and environmental experts agree that the best place to start is with a waste audit.

“Waste is a cost center, and most retailers have no idea what they are throwing away or paying for. A formal waste audit provides insight into inefficiencies and helps identify major streams for waste to resource networking opportunities,” said Justin Doak, founder and CEO, Ecoxera, a retail sustainability company based in Austin, Texas.

Performing a waste audit provides critical baseline data as to the amount and types of waste being generated. The information is critical to helping to identify current waste products and how their numbers can be improved. A waste audit also provides insight into whether others are helping fill up a store’s dumpster.

“With an audit, retailers, both standalone and strip mall tenants, can quickly see if their dumpsters are being hijacked by neighbors, employees and the like, and whether they are paying for items that they should not be accountable for,” Doak explained.

On the environmental front, waste is a huge contributor to emissions.

“Retailers looking to do their part in the battle against climate change should realize that waste is a great area to focus on to accomplish reduction goals,” Doak said. “And a waste audit is the first step.”

Doak points out that a waste audit will be a prerequisite for the soon-to-be-released LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Retail certification.

“You won’t be able to get certified under LEED for Retail without doing one,” he said. “A retailer will have to perform a waste stream study to identify the top five recyclable waste streams. Collection and storage must be provided for the top three identified, in close proximity to the source of recyclable waste, in both front and back of house.”

Waste audits have taken on increased importance now that the once-standard practice of sending everything to a landfill is no longer environmentally acceptable or cost-efficient. Tipping fees, while they vary according to region, are on the rise. Recently, agencies in Virginia and Wisconsin have proposed to increase tipping fees by 64% and 120%, respectively, Doak noted.

A waste audit also is the first step for retailers interested in turning their waste—including electronics, fixtures, signage, construction materials and packaging waste—into another company’s resource, sometimes for a profit. The process, known as a Waste to Profit Network, facilitates the transformation of a company’s waste or byproduct into an industrial input for another company.

“Passing along waste for reuse—upcycling, downcycling or recycling—keeps it from ending up in the landfill, which, in turn, keeps methane production from landfills and GHG emissions down,” Doak said. “Also, it can turn what was once a cost center into a profit center, increasing a company’s bottom line.”

An audit will highlight the largest waste-generating areas within operations and maintenance.

“After you’ve evaluated your waste streams, there are many companies that can help you turn your waste into profit,” Doak said.

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