In 2018, the United States generated 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW), which is the trash created by homes, businesses, and institutions. While 32% was recycled or composted, Americans still have a long way to go in improving waste reduction and reducing our impact on the environment.
As a facilities manager, you have a unique opportunity to impact the waste generated by your organization and how it’s handled. By reducing waste and adopting environmentally friendly processes, you can help your organization reduce its carbon footprint and have a positive effect on the environment overall.
Here are some strategies to consider for sustainable waste reduction and management.
Each organization is different, so the first step is to determine where the most waste comes from. If you’re an industrial facility, for example, consider inventory waste, overproduction, waste from the production process, packaging, defects, and more.
You’ll also want to divide waste by type—for example, if the facility creates solid trash, liquid waste, and/or toxic waste, each one should be managed separately.
It could be helpful to do an audit in each area that produces waste to see what the primary contributors are. Once you find the culprits, you can focus initial waste reduction efforts in those areas.
Reducing waste will save your organization money in disposal costs, and making changes to cut down on trash will likely make the operation more efficient and safer. As a result, the company will benefit from better profits and fewer safety incidents while also having a positive impact on the planet. Pointing out these benefits can help you make the business case for having a green workplace.
Your facility currently has some processes in place for dealing with waste, even if it’s not documented. Unfortunately, many of these processes are put together without much thought, simply based on the way things have been done in the past.
Take a look at your current waste management and document the process, even if it’s piecemeal. Knowing where you’re starting is the key to improving. From there, integrate waste improvement and other green initiatives into your organization’s innovative company culture. Talk to workers in your facility and encourage them to contribute their ideas for a solution that can help your facility reduce waste and its impact on the environment.
When workers in the facility have had a hand in creating a waste solution, they’ll be much more likely to adhere to the resulting process. Having everyone pitch in and suggest ideas also increases camaraderie and team cohesion, which is always helpful in the workplace.
Once you know what your waste picture looks like, you can start to collect ideas in three categories: reducing waste at the source, reusing materials, and recycling.
When people declutter their homes, they are often told that keeping new clutter from entering the home is key to keeping things tidy. It’s the same as reducing waste. If you can change processes to reduce how much waste enters your facility, it will be much easier to implement green policies.
For example, talk to management about implementing just-in-time ordering for inventory, which will help reduce inventory waste and packaging. It will also streamline purchasing and help reduce overspending. You might also advocate for a paper-free facility, which reduces inefficiency and lessens the facility’s negative impact on the environment.
There are probably dozens of opportunities to reuse materials, whether it’s using boxes more than once; repairing machines, fixtures, and furniture rather than replacing them; or stocking reusable coffee mugs instead of paper cups in the break room.
Depending on the facility, there may be ways to reuse scrap metal, leftover parts, or even components from products that fail quality control. Talk to the workers and managers in your facility and be creative in how you repurpose materials around the building.
Many people are familiar with recycling programs for cardboard and paper, but as a facilities manager, you can think well beyond the box and create processes for recycling metals, plastics, and a variety of other materials.
As you think through recycling processes, make sure you keep company privacy in mind. You’ll need a solid secure document destruction process, which can end with recycling the paper. Secure document destruction helps prevent information and identity theft, prevents data leaks, and protects the business.
It’s a good idea to appoint a person to manage the recycling process. The recycling manager should look into regional and local recycling options for your waste volume, and get ideas from workers in the facility.
Once you’ve chosen suppliers, kick off your program with employee education and make it fun with challenges, team competitions, and more.
When recycling is a team effort, it’s far more likely to be successful!
When your facility implements sustainable waste management, your organization will become more efficient and save both time and money. At the same time, the company will be reducing its carbon footprint and cultivating eco-friendly activities.
Many investors specifically buy stocks from companies that invest in green business practices, so improving your facility’s impact on the environment can also boost stock prices and even attract environmentally conscious customers.
Embracing sustainability shows a commitment to the planet’s future and positions the company for long-term success in an increasingly eco-aware marketplace.
Miles Oliver is an independent writer with a background in business and a passion for tech, news, and simply helping people live happy and fulfilled lives. He has lived and traveled all over the United States and continues to expand his awareness and experiences. When he is not writing, he is most likely mountain biking or kicking back with a cup of tea.