Waste Management System: A Guide

Everything you need to know about a waste management system: waste management introduction, 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 que observa el sistema de gestión de residuos mediante una tableta

What is a Waste Management System?

A waste management system is a streamlined process that organizations use to dispose of, reduce, reuse, and prevent waste. Also known as waste disposal, it is an approach where companies implement comprehensive strategies to efficiently manage wastes from their origin until their final disposal. Possible waste disposal methods are recycling, composting, incineration, landfills, bioremediation, waste to energy, and waste minimization.

Waste Management System Life Cycle

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 disposal is to reduce, reuse, and recycle waste.

  1. Recycling – 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Anaerobic digestion – 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.

The 5Rs of Waste Management

The 5Rs of waste management are a set of principles that guide efforts to reduce the environmental impact of waste. These 5Rs are:

  1. Refuse – This involves saying no to things that are not necessary, such as single-use plastics or excessive packaging.
  2. Reduce – This emphasizes the importance of minimizing the amount of waste generated by using fewer resources and being more conscious of consumption.
  3. Reuse – Instead of disposing of items after a single use, consider finding ways to reuse them. This could involve repurposing items or using durable goods that have a longer lifespan.
  4. Repurpose – This involves giving items a new purpose or use, extending their lifespan, and reducing waste.
  5. Recycle – Recycling involves processing used materials into new products, reducing the need for raw materials, and lowering the overall environmental impact.

These principles are aimed at promoting responsible and sustainable waste management practices and encouraging individuals and businesses to be more mindful of their consumption and disposal habits.

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 sorting. 

  • 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

EEnsure 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 coveralls, and tables with plastic covers 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.

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.

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Waste Management in the Construction Industry

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

Site Waste Management Plan

Site Waste Management Plan | SafetyCulture

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.

Role of Training in Implementing a Waste Management System

Policies, procedures, and plans set out the rules and guidelines that your workers should follow to secure workplace efficiency as well as guarantee everyone’s health and safety. The best way to engrain these guidelines into your workers is by putting together a robust training program on your waste management systems with the help of a digital operations platform.

Using a digital platform ensures that all workers, anytime and anywhere, will be involved in the training process. By reinforcing your waste management system plans through regular training, workers will be better equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to identify potential hazards. With this training, they’ll be able to take the appropriate measures to prevent accidents from ever occurring, as well as prevent issues with employee health, environment conditions, and more. This can lead to a mindset shift, where your policies and procedures become a natural part of their work habits, creating a safer work environment for everyone.

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.

FAQs About Waste Management System

Some of the various waste management types or methods include landfilling, incineration, recycling, composting, waste-to-energy, and source reduction. The method used in disposing of waste would depend on the type of waste to be dealt with.

Implementing a waste management system doesn’t only benefit an organization for legal compliance purposes and in conserving resources—it can also be a cost-saving strategy for a company. Additionally, managing waste properly allows businesses to contribute to the bigger picture of reducing the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Landfilling is the most common method used for waste management because landfills can be used to dispose of various types of waste, including municipal solid waste (MSW), construction and demolition debris, and hazardous waste. In recent years, however, new organization strategies are leaning towards more efficient and sustainable ways of disposing of garbage to reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfills.

Although there’s no specific “best” method of waste management per se, sustainable waste management practices such as reusing, recycling, and composting are generally considered ideal since they are more environmentally friendly and efficient. The most suitable method for an organization, however, will still depend on factors such as the type of waste, local regulations, and other pre-determined requirements.

SafetyCulture Content Team
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SafetyCulture Content Team
The SafetyCulture content team is dedicated to providing high-quality, easy-to-understand information to help readers understand complex topics and improve workplace safety and quality. Our team of writers have extensive experience at producing articles for different fields such as safety, quality, health, and compliance.