Whether you call it garbage, rubbish, trash, refuse or litter, we all generate waste. Here at USGBC, we make conscientious decisions about what we put in our office, and what goes out. We take a concentrated look at all the materials generated and do our collective best to divert as much as we can from landfills, by reusing, recycling, composting and donating. Here's a look at the how and why of waste audits at USGBC.
What is a waste audit?
Simply put, it's an analysis of our waste stream. Each quarter, members of our facilities team work with the BMS janitorial crew to pull a sampling from each waste collection area in the office. They collect a 24-hour sample which reflects a typical day of our daily operations. Sample items include: mixed paper, cardboard, glass, metal, plastic, compost material and landfill waste.
Each bag is labeled by material type and collection location, then delivered to our waste consultant, Great Forest, who conducts the audit right on the premises at our building’s loading dock.
All bags are weighed and sorted to get a comprehensive understanding of the percentage of each material type that makes up the total waste stream and percentage of each material type that is currently being diverted for recycling and composting.
Why are these audits conducted?
This kind of analysis provides us with opportunities to lower our environmental impact and realize financial savings. Following the quarterly audits, Great Forest provides us with a detailed waste stream analysis as well as suggestions for improvement. We then review the results with our energy performance management and sustainability consultant, AtSite, to determine possible courses of action. Do we need to remind staff to rinse items before tossing them out? Are there certain collection areas that have better diversion rates? Have our purchasing and green catering guidelines been effective? We were proud to see an improvement in this quarter’s diversion rate over last quarter’s rate.
As part of our engagement with the LEED Dynamic Plaque, the LEED performance score helps us manage and maintain the sustainability goals we’ve set for our space. Waste is one of five categories used to determine our LEED performance score. For example, in August 2014, we achieved a score of 7 out of 8 for our low waste generation and high waste diversion efforts. In August 2015, we have improved to a perfect score of 8 out of 8. This validates our purchasing and waste diversion practices and helps to keep our overall score at the Platinum level.
What kinds of strategies help us divert more?
Great Forest provided creative suggestions to continue our high performance:
- Research opportunities to partner with organizations that specialize in taking unique materials with a goal towards achieving zero waste in the office. Terracycle is a waste collection program for diverting previously non-recyclable, or difficult-to-recycle materials, such as snack and chip bags, from landfill. The collected waste is then converted into new consumer products, ranging from recycled park benches to upcycled backpacks.
- Designate a bag collection box where plastic bags are stored and then returned to a nearby grocery store or drop-off location. For the nearest bag drop off locations you can check out plasticfilmrecycling.org. By typing in the zip code, you can find the closest bag drop off location. They can also assist with setting up on-site collection programs.
What about our waste diversion at off-site meetings and conferences?
Not only do we evaluate our waste diversion at USGBC headquarters, but we also pay close attention to waste management off-site.
Every year, at our annual Greenbuild International Conference & Expo, we have an army of enthusiastic volunteers helping our 20,000+ attendees learn more about sustainable diversion practices. Our goal is to move towards a zero waste event and make an impact on the sustainable operations of each venue, hotel and host city.
Whether on-site or off-site, we are deeply committed to lessening our impact on the environment and sharing our story to help others. Waste audits are one of many strategies we use to measure our performance and determine the most sustainable solutions.
Want to learn more about our waste practices?