I work with businesses on waste reduction strategies so they can save money, be more sustainable and strengthen their brands. Typically, it isn’t until after we have an opportunity to dig through their trash bins that we have a clear picture of where they stand and where the potential opportunities for improvement are. Every so often, but not as often as I would like, I get paid to dumpster dive!
The purpose of a waste sort is to figure out what actions need to be taken to reduce the amount of waste generated. It is a common misconception that we are looking for ways to increase recycling, but that isn’t the case. The true goal is to eliminate the consumption of all disposable items, which includes recyclable items.
To complete the sort, we separate the contents of the trash bin by type: landfill, recyclable or compostable. We do this for a few reasons. The first is to assess how well the business is already doing. Does the business have the right amount of service to suit their needs? (about 40% of waste hauling tipping fees come from emptying underfilled or empty bins) Are there recyclable and compostable items in the trash? If so, we develop a process to get them into the correct bins. Second is to look into opportunities to reduce the overall amount of material produced. This could be by replacing disposable items with recyclable items, or recyclable items with reusable ones.
BuzzFeed’s Los Angeles campus reached out to me because they were looking to meet an internal goal of reducing their material to landfill by 20%. They had already setup a small internal composting program and had existing recycle bins but knew there were opportunities to do more.
Normally when I do waste sorts I use my own internal team, but BuzzFeed insisted on utilizing employee volunteers. I loved this idea because they got to see firsthand what they were doing well and what they could do better. This was also great because they could take their experiences back to their fellow coworkers, which is far more compelling than hearing waste reduction strategies from me.
Overall it was an awesome experience. We spent half a day digging through their trash bins, they learned a lot about what items are actually recyclable, and I got this really cool video!