How to Conduct a Waste Audit

There are many different methods for conducting waste audits of varying degrees; this is a simple, basic option. Waste (trash, garbage) audits help an organization determine what is being thrown away at its facility. This knowledge is helpful in determining what needs to be changed in current waste reduction and recycling programs and with choosing what new programs, if any, need to be implemented.

The tools you will need:

  1. 3-4 people
  2. Plastic tarp
  3. Rubber gloves
  4. Aprons
  5. 5-gallon buckets (at least 7)
  6. Signs for the buckets
  7. Scale (optional)
  8. Audit form (See "How to Use Form" below)

What do you audit?
This answer varies, but the basic answer is one days worth of garbage. You may need to set this garbage aside so it doesn't get mixed with the neighbor's garbage or any other days garbage, or one can time the audit so there is only one days worth of material in the dumpster. The best option is to label and set aside individual bags so you can determine where the garbage originally came from. One day's worth of trash may also be overwhelming amount. In that case, audit half a days worth or some smaller amount, but be sure to sort bags from all areas of the business. The idea is to get a basic concept of what is being thrown out, which may or may not change day-to-day. If the facility's production changes day-to-day, you may what to conduct a couple audits or try to choose an average day.

Sorting the Materials
When you are conducting a waste audit, there is no such thing as trash. Everything gets sorting into one of several categories. A soda syrup container is non-recyclable plastic; a beer bottle cap gets sorted into the metal container or non-recyclable metal container, candy wrappers are non-recyclable plastic and so on.

Step 1
Lay out the tarp and buckets. The buckets will be used to collect and weigh items. If you do not have a scale, just calculate your numbers by volume in gallons. If you do have a scale, don't forget to tare the weight of the bucket. Label the buckets according to materials. The different categories are usually metal, recyclable plastic, non-recyclable plastic, glass, recyclable paper, non-recyclable paper such as paper plates, compostable and non-compostable organics (meat, dairy, etc.). You may also need a bucket for plastic wrap, reusable items and any other needed material designation. The number of buckets will differ depending on what waste reduction programs are available in your area. For instance, San Francisco has a citywide commercial composting program that accepts all compostable material including meat, dairy and bones. In this case, you would only need one compost bucket, but you would still need a non-recyclable paper bucket if there if poly coated paper plates in the waste. Changing to compostable plates would eliminate that waste.

Step 2
As mentioned, trash sorted by individual areas of a facility is the best option. If you have separated and labeled individual bags, sort and record each area individually. Dump one or two bags on the tarp at a time and sort the items into the labeled buckets. Remember, there is no such thing as trash; everything down to the smallest twist tie gets put into a designated buckets. The one exception is bathroom garbage. You can record the amount, but don't sort it.

Step 3
After sorting an area, record the numbers, either weight, volume or both (recommended) on the audit form. If you are sorting individual areas, use a separate sheet for each area. Kitchen, front of house, prep kitchen, etc.

Step 4
Clean up then have a beer. You deserve it.

Step 5
Calculate your numbers and proceed with appropriate actions. Did you find a lot of recyclable items in the sort? In what area(s)? Who is throwing it away? Was the vast majority of trash food waste? Is there a composting option in your area? Can you compost on-site? Was there a lot of food packaging? Are there other product options that don't have as much packaging?

Conducting a waste audit is one of the best actions a restaurant can take to reduce its waste production. Observing what you are paying to throw away can be a huge motivator.

How to Use Audit Form
The waste audit form is a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that can automatically calculate waste weight totals and percentages. The form is divided into several sheets (Kitchen, Meat, Produce, etc.), denoted at the bottom of the screen. Each of these sheets represents an area of the facility being audited. A copy of the "Print Form" should be printed for each area and used to conduct the actual audit. The other sheets (Kitchen - All) contain forulas for entering data. Once all the data is entered, each sheet will calculate waste weight totals and percentages for that particular area and the "All" sheet will calculate totals for all the areas. You can use just one or all of the sheets. See the notes tab in the file for info on adding additional sheets.

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