Back-of-the-House Steps to Capture Waste Stream Value
When people consider facility recycling, they tend to think in terms of collection bins and cheerful signs urging everyone to pitch in and go green. But successful recycling at the facility level is possible only if steps are taken in the “back of the house” to capture the economic potential of what is being thrown into the trash. In fact, it is instructive to view trash not as a waste stream, but as a value stream. That’s because nearly every facility pays for materials that will be thrown away. And having someone haul this waste to a landfill costs money. A well-designed recycling program has the potential to substantially reduce overall waste disposal costs.
Recycling is a complex industry that varies considerably by geographic region and is impacted by ever-changing market conditions. The facilities that can benefit from new or enhanced recycling programs are as diverse as universities, office buildings, hospitals and even fast food restaurants. However, there are some basic steps that most facilities can use to capitalize on the extended value stream.
Waste Stream Assessment
A waste stream assessment examines all materials that come into the facility and are not consumed on-site or become part of what is shipped out to customers. While this definition clearly applies to manufacturing plants, it can also be applied to all facilities.The key is to identify opportunities to capture more of the value in the waste stream.
An assessment starts with establishing a baseline that includes waste that is removed to a landfill or otherwise disposed of, as well as any existing segregation of materials for recycling. Members of the team should walk through the entire facility and document how waste material, including potential recyclables like paper, plastic and metal are sorted, stored and disposed of. This assessment should also look at what comes into the facility, including packaging, because suppliers might be persuaded to alter their practices so there is less packaging or other ancillary material to dispose of, or work with you to utilize increased recycling components.
The other component of an assessment lies outside the facility and includes services required to reduce expensive landfill waste. The objective is to match available services with a facility’s specific needs. Contact service providers, also known as waste haulers, to determine what materials they will handle. Not all haulers take all materials, and the level of service is often determined by the provider and regional materials recycling facility (MRF). Service providers tend to adjust to the regional recycling culture, which can vary widely from place to place.
Single stream recycling – collecting comingled recyclables for later separation at a MRF – has grown in popularity in part because it simplifies the hauler’s collection of recycling materials. Even if single-stream recycling is the norm for residences in the surrounding community, it does not mean that a facility must also participate. When facilities generate quantities of recyclable materials like metal or office paper, it is possible to separate and sell these materials. Facility managers need to assess whether it makes economic sense to separate certain recyclable materials and divert them away from the single stream. This practice may offer the potential to offset some of the costs associated with recyclable material pick-up, but its success depends on the volume of recyclable materials, the cost or revenue associated with the particular material and whether the facility can provide clean, uncontaminated materials.
Due to the complexities of commodity markets and the likelihood of fluctuating prices, any agreement with a service provider should contain market value adjustments and performance service language.Facility managers need to set key performance indicators. And they must be equipped to measure performance and keep current on pricing. An effective program does more than set up waste streams; it also includes real incentives to reduce waste disposal costs.
Planning and Implementation
Armed with details of the waste stream and of available recycling services – the so-called “back of the house” – the facility team is ready to plan the rest of the recycling program. The service provider agreement is the basis on which to develop internal systems to collect and store recyclable materials. Here again, it is instructive to walk through the facility. This time, though, pay attention to how employees dispose of waste and what can be done to change behaviors to divert recyclables.
Well-designed recycling containers with educational graphics are a critical factor in program success. It is important to teach employees that recyclable items placed in the trash increase waste disposal costs, and non-recyclable materials into the stream can cause contamination, which also increases costs.
Finally, facility managers should perform audits regularly to measure the effectiveness of the program in reducing waste and increasing retention of recyclable materials. Since nothing is static in the world of waste disposal and recycling, be prepared to make regular adjustments to the program.