Developing Skills to Conduct Waste Assessments for Businesses

Below are steps to follow when you are conducting a waste assessment for another business or organization. Certain steps will overlap and you may decide to add new steps to customize your process to fit your needs.

The following materials will assist you in conducting waste assessments.

Step #1: Complete preassessment tasks (get organized!)

  • Develop or obtain forms to use during your assessment.
  • Collect background information on the organization/type of business.
  • Develop a series of questions to guide your initial phone conversation with the business to make sure you collect critical information.
  • Determine appropriate time of week/month/year to conduct assessment –pick a time when waste is being generated (not off season) and when containers are full.
  • Explain the waste assessment process to your contact at the business BEFORE you arrive.
  • Clarify confidentiality issues with the business.

Step #2: Collect information at the business site. Listed below are skills and related tools to use when collecting information during the waste assessment.

  • Questioning
    • Develop a list of probing and open-ended questions:
    • What are they currently doing to reduce waste?
    • What materials do they purchase, process, ship and dispose of?
    • Who provides waste removal and recycling services?
  • Listening
    • Restate what they said.
    • Ask for clarification/details about their responses/comments.
  • Observing
    • Pay attention–you are a detective who is looking for clues to the mystery of waste!
    • Look at the waste & recycling containers, compactor, shipping/receiving area, internal trash containers, manufacturing/processing floor, reproduction room – anywhere there is activity that may generate materials.
    • Ask lots of questions about what you see.
  • Writing (take notes)
    • What did you see, hear, observe?
    • What are they doing/not doing to reduce waste?
    • Who else could you talk to that would have useful information?
    • Can you call them within the next few days?
    • Use forms to capture this information.
  • Pictures/slides
    • Ask permission to bring a camera.
    • Use photos of dumpster, recycling bins, receiving area, etc. as part of your report or presentation to the business.
  • Tips:
    • Remember you are a visitor and need to see things from the business’s point of view as well as your point of view.
    • Provide them with useful information at the time of the assessment; include a packet or some information.
    • Be positive about their current efforts, even if they are minimal; build on what they are doing rather than suggesting that their current efforts are misdirected or futile.

Step #3: Organize the information you collected

  • Develop a report of the information you collected (see samples).
  • Call the business to “fill in the blanks” or clarify information you collected. Do this within a week of your visit.

Step #4: Evaluate the information you collected

  • Identify major components of the waste stream.
  • Identify opportunities for waste reduction, reuse, recycling and buy recycled.

Step #5: Develop written recommendations for the business

  • Based on your evaluation, develop specific recommendations for the business.
  • Include recommendations on prevention, reuse, composting, recycling and buy recycled.
  • Make recommendations realistic and specific enough for the business to take action.
  • Include short, medium, and long range waste reduction options.
  • Add these recommendations to your waste assessment report; present it to the business.

Step #6: Follow-up with the business (phone call)

  • Allow time for the business to take action, maybe 3 months.
  • Conduct follow-up phone calls to determine progress, get their feedback and offer additional assistance if feasible.

CalRecycle’s 2014 Generator-Based Waste Characterization Study contains data from waste assessments done throughout the state. The information was used to develop statewide average waste stream data for certain industry groups. This could be used as background information on what might be expected from certain types of businesses.

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