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
Published 22 Nov 2022
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
As for waste management, it is the measures utilized to manage waste in its entire life cycle, from waste generation to disposal or recovery.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Use this waste audit template to document your organization’s waste audit results.
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 | 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.
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:
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.
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.
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 ChecklistEliminate manual tasks and streamline your operations.Get started for free
Eliminate manual tasks and streamline your operations.
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.
According to the EPA, there are six steps in conducting food waste audits.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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).
Using this hazardous waste audit template, you can do the following:
SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor) 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. SafetyCulture can help businesses across all industries create comprehensive and compliant waste management systems. It has the following features:
Get started for free with SafetyCulture to make waste management more efficient for your business.
Available on Android, iOS, and the web, SafetyCulture is a customizable mobile inspection app mainly used to improve and maintain safety and quality in numerous industries.
SafetyCulture offers a number of ready-to-use waste audit templates and other tools for waste management that can be used in settings where environment, health, and safety are of the utmost importance.
Erick Brent Francisco
Erick Brent Francisco is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture since 2018. As a content specialist, he is interested in learning and sharing how technology can improve work processes and workplace safety. His experience in logistics, banking and financial services, and retail helps enrich the quality of information in his articles.
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