Waste Management System: A Guide

Everything you need to know about a waste management system: waste disposal methods, tools you can use to reduce waste, how to conduct effective waste audits, and additional tools to help your business comply with environmental laws

auditor looking at waste management system using tablet

Published 8 Jul 2022

What is a Waste Management System?

A waste management system is the strategy an organization uses to dispose, reduce, reuse, and prevent waste. Possible waste disposal methods are recycling, composting, incineration, landfills, bioremediation, waste to energy, and waste minimization.

Waste Management Life Cycle

Waste management life cycle | SafetyCulture

As for waste management, it is the measures utilized to manage waste in its entire life cycle, from waste generation to disposal or recovery.

Waste Disposal Methods

There are multiple waste management strategies and methods available. These strategies can be combined or rearranged to form a waste management system that fits an organization. Modern waste management strategies are geared towards sustainability. Other alternatives for waste management is to reduce, reuse and recycle waste.

Also known as physical reprocessing, recycling is ideal for the disposal of inorganic waste such as plastic, glass, and metals. Though organic waste such as paper and food can also be recycled, composting would be a better waste disposal method as it converts organic waste into nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Waste to energy or WtE, on the other hand, is the conversion of non-recyclable waste into heat, electricity, or fuel using renewable energy sources such as anaerobic digestion and plasma gasification.

Anaerobic digestion is the biological reprocessing of animal manure and human excreta into methane-rich biogas. Plasma gasification uses a plasma-filled vessel operating at high temperatures and low levels of oxygen to transform hazardous waste into syngas. Another option for disposing of hazardous waste is bioremediation, the treatment of contaminants, toxins, and pollutants through micro-organisms.

Approaches and Best Practices

A waste audit is an assessment of an organization’s waste management system. It analyzes the movement of waste from generation to disposal. Common approaches for conducting waste audits are records examination, facility walk-throughs, and waste sort. 

  • First approach –  involves looking at waste hauling and disposal records as well as contracts with recycling facilities.
  • Second approach – requires a team of internal auditors to identify waste-generating activities through observation and interviews with employees.
  • Third approach – is the physical collection, sorting, and weighing of a sample of the organization’s waste. This sample can be a day’s worth of waste or a collection of waste from each department.

Best practices for conducting a waste audit are to refrain from releasing the audit date to the entire organization, prepare personal protective equipment and a venue for sorting beforehand, and commit to acting on the waste audit result. This can be achieved by creating corrective action plans for each possible result. 

For example, if the organization scored low on a certain area, then the following steps should be done. For this to work, it is essential for the organization to set the criteria before conducting the waste audit. Another tip is to use digital waste audit checklists for easy documentation and a more comprehensive data analysis.

Waste Audit Checklists

A digital waste audit checklist is used before, during, and after a waste audit. It typically contains planning, waste sorting, and next steps, though it may also include descriptions of the organization’s waste stream. Aside from being more convenient, digital waste audit checklists are also better for the environment than paper checklists. 

Waste Audit Checklist

Ensure that your organization has implemented an effective waste audit process. Determine the readiness of the waste audit team, inspect sorting equipment, and come up with corrective action plans. Confirm that goals and predictions have been enumerated. Verify that puncture-resistant nitrile gloves, full Tyvek coverall, and tables with plastic covering are available. 

Compare findings to previous waste audit results and initial predictions to critically evaluate the organization’s waste management system. Preview a sample report for more information.

Waste Audit Template

Use this waste audit template to document your organization’s waste audit results. 

  • Examine the current waste management system by providing details on current waste operations and recycling efforts.
  • Learn the actual cost of not recycling by analyzing waste collection bills.
  • Sort waste by categories such paper, plastics, aluminum, and steel.
  • Record the subcategories’ estimated percentage of the waste stream.
  • Add photos for evidence or for future reference.


While a waste management system is critical for any industry, there is added pressure on the construction industry to comply with waste management regulations.

For example, the Site Waste Management Plans Regulations 2008 in England requires projects over £300,000 to have a SWMP before starting construction. While the creation and implementation of a site waste management plan is not required in other countries, doing so helps organizations avoid incurring any regulatory penalties.

Site Waste Management Plan Template

Discover if the construction project meets the requirements of the Site Waste Management Plans Regulations 2008. This SWMP checklist can be used throughout the project lifecycle to monitor its compliance. It contains specific questions for planning and preparation, allocating responsibility, as well as the identification, organization, and disposal of waste. It also has a section dedicated to learning lessons for the future so that contractors and subcontractors know what actions must be taken to perform better.

While SWMPs are focused on construction waste, they can be adapted for use in other industries since, by definition, waste is an example of inefficiency. Though it may be impossible to completely eliminate the production of waste, using a waste management plan to make small, gradual improvements is a step towards more sustainable operations.

How to Create a Waste Management Plan

Before forming a waste management plan, get input and buy in from various stakeholders. Ask for suggestions on how to be more eco-friendly. Next, assess the strength of the current system by conducting waste audits. After reviewing the waste audit results, identify development needs including budget, estimated waste composition, current waste reduction, and waste generation.

To ensure that the implementation of the waste management plan is feasible, maintain a realistic perspective when establishing goals. Once goals for the waste management plan have been finalized, perform the following steps:

  1. Determine the needed resources (containers, vehicles, etc.)
  2. Assign a point person and clarify their responsibilities
  3. Prepare a timeline for implementation

During implementation, remember to document everything and involve everyone in the organization. Aside from keeping all waste audit results, document the day-to-day waste disposal and resource use of the organization. Additionally, give everyone the tools they need to participate effectively in waste management. These tools can include training, induction, toolbox talks, and even digital checklists.

Why Use a Waste Management Checklist?

By empowering employees to be more conscious of the impact their waste has on the environment, organizations can become the catalysts for mass ideological change in society’s perception of waste. Instead of excessively purchasing new materials and carelessly discarding unused resources, professionals in all industries should do their best to reduce waste generation and strengthen their waste reduction efforts.

Waste Management Checklist

Guide the planning and implementation of waste management improvements with this digital tool. Evaluate if implemented measures are controlled to prevent harm to humans or the environment. Minimize over-ordering of materials by selecting the right quantities. Consider the use of recycled materials and opportunities for reprocessing. Ensure that the importance of the waste management plan has been communicated to all employees.

Create Your Own Waste Management Checklist

Automate workflows and streamline operations with this checklist today.

Food Waste Management System

A food waste audit analyzes the components of a restaurant’s waste. It helps restaurants identify the inefficiencies in their processes and provides them with the data they need to effectively address their food waste. As part of the Target-Measure-Act approach recommended by the World Resources Institute, food waste audits enable restaurants to set reduction targets, measure and report food loss, and be bold in taking action to combat food waste.

According to ReFED, the full cost of generating food waste for the U.S. restaurant sector is $54.7 billion, with an even larger amount spent ($218 billion) on the production, processing, transportation, and disposal of uneaten food. However, despite these statistics, there is a real benefit to caring about and mitigating food waste. ReFED states that for every dollar invested in food waste reduction, restaurants can realize approximately $8 of cost savings. 

How to Conduct a Food Waste Audit in 6 Steps

According to the EPA, there are six steps in conducting food waste audits. 

  1. Develop audit goals and define targeted wastes (for donation, for animal feed, for composting, for recycling).
  2. Complete a pre-audit questionnaire concerning access to food banks and off-site composters.
  3. Plan the audit process through determining the waste sorting method, selecting a venue and a date, and obtaining waste sample bins.
  4. Identify and accomplish audit logistics by coordinating with the staff and giving them the necessary supplies for conducting the audit, such as a digital checklist.
  5. Collection and sorting of waste.
  6. Evaluate audit results.

Food Waste Audit Checklists

One of the biggest advantages of a digital food waste audit checklist is that it automatically collects data. Understanding the food waste stream is the primary goal of these audits. With these digital checklists, restaurants and other food service businesses don’t have to worry about capturing the information they need to refine their waste management system.

Food Waste Audit Checklist

Efficiently document organization food waste. Enter the date and time of disposal and the reason why the food loss occurred. Measure food waste in portions, quarts, or pounds. Attach photos as visual references for future audits. Preview a sample report for more information.

Food Waste Audit Template

Be able to create food waste entries that include descriptions, dates and times of disposal, reasons for disposal, and the total cost of waste in dollars. Submit the finished food waste audit template to regional managers for verification. Get a bigger picture of the conditions that made food waste disposal necessary by making staff signatures mandatory. Sign-off to indicate approval of the explanation.

Hospital Waste Management System

Independent auditors perform clinical waste audits to assess a healthcare facility’s compliance with government regulations. In the UK, it is legally required to sort, code, and manage clinical waste, which is defined by the Controlled Waste Regulations as any waste which consists of:

  • human or animal tissue, blood or other body fluids, excretions
  • drugs or other pharmaceutical products, swabs or dressings, syringes, needles or other sharp instruments
  • any other waste arising from medical, nursing, dental, veterinary, pharmaceutical or similar practice

In the US, clinical or medical waste is defined by the EPA as any solid waste which is generated in the diagnosis, treatment, or immunization of human beings or animals. State-specific regulations on clinical waste disposal can be found here.

Clinical Waste Audit Checklists

While official clinical waste audits are conducted by independent auditors, healthcare facilities can also choose to prepare for these official audits by conducting their own frequent clinical waste audits. For these unofficial, regular audits, using paper checklists is counterintuitive since they contribute to the healthcare facility’s waste. Additionally, the passing of these checklists from one person to another could cause certain viruses to spread. 

Be consistent with your clinical waste audits. The possibility of these instances can be avoided or at least minimized. Using digital checklists also saves healthcare administrators time in organizing the audit results since data is stored in a single place and can be filtered by date, department, branch, etc.

Clinical Waste Audit Checklist

Compare the performance of the healthcare facility’s waste management system against set standards. Ensure that staff are recording and segregating waste. Conduct a facility walkthrough and take photos of non-compliant items or areas. Provide comments or suggestions on waste management procedures that need clarification. Preview a sample report for more information.

Hospital Waste Management Checklist

Enforce waste management procedures within your healthcare facility using this hospital waste management checklist. Customize it to fit the color-coding system of the healthcare facility. Check if clinical waste bins are appropriately displayed, secured, and labeled. Inspect the condition of recyclable waste. Attach photos as evidence for formal audits.

Hazardous Waste Management System

Hazardous waste management was a key factor in the formation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Hazardous waste is defined by the EPA as waste that is potentially harmful to human health or the environment. However, hazardous waste is only subject to RCRA Subtitle C regulation if it is:

  • a solid waste
  • not excluded from the definition of solid waste
  • not excluded from the definition of hazardous waste
  • specifically listed as a known hazardous waste; OR
  • meets the characteristics of a hazardous waste; and
  • not delisted

Listed hazardous wastes are either from common manufacturing and industrial processes (F-list), specific sectors of industry and manufacturing (K-list), or discarded commercial chemical products (P and U lists). Characteristics of a hazardous waste are ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, and toxicity

Why Is It Important?

Hazardous waste audits are encouraged and incentivized by the EPA. While the original audit policy was published in 1986, the 1995 audit policy further expanded it by stating that the EPA will not seek gravity-based penalties or recommend criminal charges for violations discovered through audits or a waste management system. However, such violations must be promptly disclosed and corrected. 

EPA has also released a set of audit protocols to guide the degree and quality of evaluation essential to an audit. Each audit protocol contains a checklist that matches regulatory requirements and specifies what should be evaluated during the audit. 

Hazardous Waste Audit Checklists

Recommended by the EPA, hazardous waste audit checklists are also helpful tools for businesses to use in identifying gaps in their waste management system. Using digital checklists to conduct hazardous waste audits can also prevent unintended exposure to these harmful substances. Additionally, digital hazardous waste audit checklists are more convenient than paper checklists, which require manually entering data and typing up reports. 

Hazardous Waste Audit Checklist

Assess compliance with EPA regulations and evaluate the waste management systems of your organization. Validate if the business is following the accepted environmental impacts of its operations and production activities. Inspect hazardous waste manifests for reconciliation with time limits, EPA certified personnel signatures, and availability of 36 rolling months minimum. Confirm that the business uses a Permitted Hazardous Waste Transporter and Permitted Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facility (TSDF).

Hazardous Waste Audit Template

Using this hazardous waste audit template, you can do the following:

  • Conduct weekly hazardous waste audits to accurately monitor compliance.
  • Inspect hazardous waste containers and storage.
  • Check hazardous waste labels and placards.
  • Ensure that the staff has received emergency response training in case of contamination.
  • Look for additional documents to support the audit such as MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet), Hazardous Communication Program training records, and previous audit results.

iAuditor EHS Software

iAuditor by SafetyCulture is an award-winning EHS software (environment, health and safety). Conduct any type of waste audit on the mobile app. Get an in-depth view of waste audit results on the web platform’s analytics dashboard. iAuditor can help businesses across all industries create comprehensive and compliant waste management systems. It has the following features:

  • Capture issues and observations on the current waste disposal method
  • Use the data gathered from waste audits to make improvements
  • Add and assign corrective actions while conducting an audit 
  • Instantly generate waste audit reports and share via web link

Get started for free with iAuditor to make waste management more efficient for your business.

SafetyCulture Content Specialist

Zarina Gonzalez

Zarina is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture. She enjoys discovering new ways for businesses to improve their safety, quality, and operations. She is working towards helping companies become more efficient and better equipped to thrive through change.

Zarina is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture. She enjoys discovering new ways for businesses to improve their safety, quality, and operations. She is working towards helping companies become more efficient and better equipped to thrive through change.