Waste > Waste Audit


A waste audit is an analysis of your facility’s waste stream. It can identify what types of recyclable materials and waste your facility generates and how much of each category is recovered for recycling or discarded. Using the data collected, your organization can identify the feasibility of enhancing its recycling efforts and the potential for cost savings.

Your organization’s waste hauler or local government may be willing to conduct a waste audit. Contact your waste hauler to learn more about the services it provides. Also consider joining the EPA’s free WasteWise program, which provides members with several benefits, including a technical assistance team that will help your organization conduct a waste audit and identify waste reduction opportunities.

For listings of recycling service providers near your city, visit Earth 911’s Business Resources directory and the Environmental Yellow Pages.

Calculate the environmental benefits of recycling.

For a comprehensive discussion of waste and use reduction, see EPA’s Resource Conservation section on reduction and reuse.

Waste audits can save money

Recycling and composting can save money through avoided disposal and hauling costs. Many recyclable items can also be sold on the market as a source of revenue. A waste audit can help your organization identify these potential savings and revenue opportunities. Many companies have found significant savings through their efforts to increase recycling.

In three years the Cleveland Indians cut their annual waste in half by significantly expanding their recycling facilities to sort waste on-site. This reduced the number of trash compactor pickups–that cost the Indians an average of $500 each–by 64 percent from 254 pickups in 2007 to 92 in 2010, saving the Club $50,000 annually.

The Brooklyn Brewery in Brooklyn, NY implemented a variety of recycling and waste reduction measures, including recycling its own cardboard and plastic wastes. These measures reduced its annual waste generation by over 50%, saving the company over $25,000 a year in disposal and hauling costs.

The San Diego Wild Animal Park generates over 23,000 tons of waste annually but discards only 4% of this waste in landfills. It has implemented a comprehensive composting program for organic waste and has distributed recycling containers throughout its 1,800 acres, in addition to many other programs. In total, these efforts save the organization over $1 million dollars in landfilling and hauling fees each year.

For more examples of how smart waste practices can save your organization money, see the following websites:

New York City Recycling Case Studies
StopWaste.org Partnership Success Stories
Institute for Local Self Reliance – Recycling Record Setters

What is a waste audit?

Before implementing a recycling program, your organization should conduct a waste audit. During a waste audit, the auditor investigates the sources, composition, weight, volume, and destinations of the waste that your organization generates. Organizations exist that will perform this service free of charge, or they can be performed in-house by staff. By learning more about the trash your organization generates, you can be better informed about the products you buy that contribute to waste and be prepared to efficiently dispose of it, saving your organization money and improving your organization’s environmental performance.

How to perform a waste audit

Performing a waste audit is an effective way to learn more about the trash your organization generates. In order to create an accurate representation of your organization’s waste stream and how much you’re currently diverting towards recycling, consider performing multiple waste audits, each during a different season during the year.

  1. Ensure proper safety measures
    Provide thick gloves to sorters and make sure that everyone has had their tetanus shots. Involve the organization’s occupational health and safety director.
  2. Ensure proper confidentially measures
    The waste stream may contain personal and private information that should be kept confidential. Ensure that no documents are being read during the audit, and that nothing leaves the auditing area. Have participants sign confidentiality agreements.
  3. Enlist building managers, custodial staff, and waste haulers
    The help of building managers, custodial staff, and waste haulers is invaluable to a successful waste audit. These sources can assist in gathering your organization’s waste and can also provide valuable insight into the current state of your recycling and waste management system.
  4. Don’t notify staff of the timing of the audit
    By keeping the timing of a waste audit secret, you ensure that the waste you analyze is a truly representative sample of the waste that your organization generates on a regular basis. If people are informed of the date of a waste audit, they may increase their recycling rates or otherwise alter their behavior.
  5. Collect waste
    Work with waste haulers, custodial staff, and concessions managers to collect the waste. Make sure that the waste collected is clearly labeled by date and location.
  6. Sort waste
    Sort the collected waste by type, noting paper, cardboard, recyclable and non-recyclable plastics, glass, and metals, food waste, batteries, etc. Make sure to note recyclable materials that have not been recycled.
  7. Analyze results and make recommendations
    What is the composition of your organization’s waste stream? How much can your organization increase its recycling? By what methods can your organization increase its recycling? How can waste be collected more efficiently? What are the opportunities to reduce waste generation? How can your organization save money by altering its waste management systems?

Environmental Benefits

By conducting a waste audit, your organization can be better prepared to efficiently and responsibly dispose of the waste that it generates every day. By designing a more efficient waste disposal program, your organization can increase the amount of paper, plastic, and metals that it recycles, which reduces air and water pollution, helps curb global warming, and conserves our natural resources.

Additional Resources

Waste Audit webpage
WME magazine on conducting a waste audit (1)
WME magazine on conducting a waste audit (2)
WasteWise – How to Start or Expand a Recycling Program
Minnesota Guide to Source Reduction