Let’s start with the basics – what exactly is a waste management audit? And don’t worry, it’s not as scary as an actual audit!

A waste management audit is a method of analyzing an organisation’s waste practices. The goal is to discover what types and quantities of waste you produce – paper, plastic, compostables, recyclables, or whatever – over a particular period, often a week. Auditing can also measure factors such as how much waste is recycled versus thrown out. Businesses usually conduct waste audits to set goals in areas such as recycling, waste reduction, and energy efficiency. Another reason for a waste audit is to achieve certification for your green endeavours.

That’s important, because it assures your customers you are actually delivering on your environmental claims, not just greenwashing.

What is included in a waste audit?

Zero Waste Sign on Grass


Do you want the short or the long answer? They are both the same. Everything is included. This is an audit, and you leave nothing out. You are cataloging every item of waste your business produces, from the packaging your raw materials come in, to the crusts your employees throw into the bin after they eat the good bits of their lunch-time sandwiches.

You set a few hours aside, and you put on your protective clothing, pull on the gloves, and go through everything. And record what you find. Categorize the waste into the different categories you are concerned with. Divide it all into paper, plastics, food waste. Are the plastics single use, rigid, coloured or clear? Separate them.

You will need a camera and a weighing scale. Look at every location in your business separately. At each location take photos of the sorted trash. Weigh the different categories, and record the weight. That record will be needed for comparison going forward, and for analyzing how you are doing.

At the end – once you have rebinned everything and cleaned up – you need to estimate averages. Convert your data into numbers you can work with. Audit done.

But why is a waste audit required?

Waste Compliance On Laptop Screen

Many reasons. It tells you what you are doing wrong – and right. An audit will show you the effectiveness of your operations, and remove the guesswork. You might discover opportunities for recycling, or reuse. You might discover inefficiencies you can eliminate.

You might even save money. Waste audits can show new revenue streams or potential savings. By reducing what goes into your trash you can reduce your waste disposal fees. And your recyclable waste might even make a few euro.

If you are seriously committed to being part of the circular economy, a waste audit will let you know how you are doing. You can set targets, and see if you are achieving them. The audit is also vital if you are going for certification of any sort. For example you can’t claim to have achieved zero waste to landfill unless you have the data to prove it. 

What are the phases of a waste audit?

Process concept waste management

It varies from company to company, but certain steps have to be carried out to do a successful audit. First of all you need to set a date and commit to it. Pick a typical day – don’t go for a day when waste will be unusually light for any reason. Lying to yourself won’t help you plan for a more green future.

Select the people who will be doing the audit, and gather what you will need. You will need plenty of space, bags to sort the rubbish, a camera to record it, something to weigh it. And you will need to prepare either a digital (preferable) or paper form to record and collate everything. Make sure your audit team includes people from every aspect of the business, including the money people. They need to see the waste, and the savings that are possible.

On the day give yourself plenty of time. Gather all the rubbish in one place, spill it out and start sorting. Include enough time for the clean-up afterwards!

Then prepare the data in a way that is easy to communicate with everyone. There is no good doing an audit unless everyone can benefit from the results.

Waste Audit Example

At CEC we have helped many businesses audit their waste management practices. But rather than blow our own trumpet, let’s look at some outside examples.

Unilever Food Solutions in New South Wales conducted a waste audit and discovered that 21% – over a fifth – of their food waste was avoidable. They took steps to reduce this, and saved €15,000 in food costs annually.

Calgary Zoo in Canada also acted on their waste audit. After a year they had reduced their waste by half. What is half, in the context of a zoo? A massive 104 tonnes, or the weight of 130 giraffes! They also produced 1,500kg of high quality compost, which was used in gardens throughout their local community.

Your business might not produce that much compost! But at CEC we would be delighted to help you do a waste management audit, to see what you are doing right, and where you can improve. Contact CEC to get started!