Learning from a Company Wide Waste Audit | How much of your office waste is heading to landfills?
It’s a question responsible enterprises are asking and, where they aren’t asking of their own volition, government regulations are demanding it of them. Conducting a waste audit leaves nothing to the imagination about how wasteful – or not – a company is. The audit is a set procedure that investigates how much waste is “captured” to be recycled, re-directing to a composting facility, hazardous waste disposal centers, or sent to a landfill. The audit report then makes recommendations for improvement.
May 2015, Envirotech decided to take Spring-cleaning to the next level by having a waste audit of its own practices done. The results were surprising and there are a number of easy steps you own company can take to improve its own efforts to reduce business waste. We interviewed Glenn Fitzgerald, Operations Manager, Envirotech Office Systems, to outline all the learning a waste audit can inspire.
Q: Envirotech is a green company. Its entire premise is about re-using and up-cycling. What could such an environmentally friendly company learn from a waste audit report?
Glenn Fitzgerald: The portion of the report I was most interested in was our capture rate. At 88.77% I think we are in a very good starting position, and with some small easy steps able to greatly improve upon that.
Q: How did you improve upon something that was already pretty good?
G.F.: During the course of the audit, we switched our office cleaning service from an outside contractor to in-house. Previously, everything that was generated in general building area was going into the waste, even though quite a bit could be recycled. With the in house service we are doing a more diligent job of separating recycling from waste (especially paper) and increasing the capture rate. I was pretty satisfied with the capture rate through our production stream, with the exception that there was quite a bit of food / drink waste ending up where it shouldn’t have. I think this is just an education issue like using your blue box for curb side recycling.
Q: Is educating people about their waste management the only issue?
G.F.: Not quite. That’s where the rest of the report gets a bit tricky. We are classified as a “Large Manufacturing Establishment”. We market ourselves like that, and our brand promise is essentially that our output will perform and look just as good as brand new output from any other original equipment manager. However, our input is nothing like that of a large original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Many office furniture manufacturers now call their manufacturing process “zero waste to landfill”, so it is to be expected that some of their raw material is made from recycled product, but the vast majority of their input are virgin raw materials taken from the Earth
Q: But the majority of the material Envirotech uses is recycled. Why aren’t you considered “zero waste to landfill”?
When it comes to material inputs we are much more akin to a recycling plant. More than 99% of our input by weight is post-consumer product. We do have virgin raw material input as well, but it is comparatively small. It is a bit tough to estimate our virgin raw materials, as there really isn’t anything we buy in weights. Paint and fabric make up the bulk of raw material input and are about 700-1000kg a month (our fabrics range from 0 to 100% recycled material). This leads to the odd situation where the weight of materials going to the landfill in the audit is greater than the weight of virgin raw materials purchased. The way I look at it is that when we pull 100kg out of the waste stream, 5kg goes back in as waste, and with 1kg of new raw material the remaining 95kg is once again sellable. It is true, that there is quite a bit of material that goes through Envirotech and to the landfill. The same thing happens at your municipal recycling center. Since our input is primarily post-consumer product we are significantly better than even a “zero waste to landfill” facility, I would even call us a “negative waste to landfill” facility.
Q: Are these kinds of labels really helpful in determining whether a company is green or sustainable in its waste operations?
G.F.: I’m not so sure. Most, or soon, all of their manufacturing facilities across the world will be “zero waste to landfill”, but that only applies to their manufacturing facilities. It says nothing of the processes to get the raw materials, the office waste at their many distributors or the packaging waste after delivery and installation.
Q: What practices or standards are even higher than “zero waste to landfill”?
G.F.: Working locally whenever possible! Most of our input is from local sources, simply because getting it here from the GTA is often cheaper than paying to transport it from anywhere else. Our entire sales waste was included in the audit. We do most of our business in the GTA, and all of that installation waste was included in the audit. Further to that, the installation waste also includes packaging waste from not just our remanufacturing department, but also from all of our partners. The final destination of most packaging from OEMs on the other hand ends up in the waste stream.
Q: How do you think further improvements will be made as a result of your waste audit?
G.F.: We’re going to keep looking at ourselves as a company and examining our habits whether good or bad! Envirotech will have been in business for 20 years in 2016. It can be challenging to change from what you know works to what you hope will work better. Over the last few years, we have made great strides to becoming a leaner company by eliminating as much waste as possible. I am far more likely to be called a cheapskate than a tree hugger, but I feel we are in a position where any cost savings or efficiencies we find will also positively impact the environment.
Q: What does changing your habits mean in practical terms?
We’ve made it a priority for the next 3 years to dramatically reduce our paper consumption. We know our software is behind the times, and that an upgrade meant to reduce paper usage will also come with a reduction of work, stress and errors.
And, because the bulk of our input is pulled from the landfill rather than from the Earth, the greatest positive impact we can have on the environment is by actually producing and selling more product.