Christian M. 5 min read

Commercial Waste Audits

A waste audit is the best way to improve your business’s waste management practices and ensure compliance. Taking a cold, hard, unbiased look at your business’s waste habits is the best (and sometimes only) way to methodically break bad practices such as mixing recyclables, food and electronics with general waste.

These unnecessarily expose your business to hefty fines for breaching its waste duty of care.

The commercial waste collection and disposal process can be conducted in-house or by a third party. It can be applied to ALL business sectors and waste streams and will benefit your business’s risk profile and environmental credentials as well as reduce business waste collection costs.

💡 Key Takeaways: 

  • Just like any other audit: A commercial waste audit is an objective assessment of a business’s waste management practices, akin to other audits in finance, energy and water usage.
  • Essential but not mandatory: While not a legal requirement, a waste audit is still crucial for any business committed to avoiding fines through compliance and for those aiming to excel in environmental responsibility.
  • It’s easy: A waste audit is not rocket science. It can be easily done in-house by following these simple four steps. Alternatively, you may get a free waste audit by switching to a new commercial waste collection provider.

What is a commercial waste audit?

A commercial waste audit is an unbiased assessment of how your waste is managed within your business. The scope of the audit can be extremely detailed or very general, and it can be implemented in businesses of all sizes and sectors. It can be conducted internally by designated in-house experts or externally by a waste consultant.

💡 Essential but not mandatory: While not a legal requirement, a commercial waste audit is highly recommended to ensure that your business’s waste practices meet its duty of care obligations.

How to conduct a commercial waste audit?

Waste audits, similar to audits in finance, water usage, and business energy audits, generally follow these four steps:

1. Research

Begin by understanding your business’s duty of care when it comes to its waste. We recommend using our waste compliance checker or reading our essential guides on:

Additionally, contacting your local authority is advisable to understand what they consider as fulfilling your duty of care, as this may vary based on available services in your area. This is also an opportunity to learn about any local in-house collection services, special business waste prevention programmes, and grants that may not be widely advertised.

Furthermore, you will benefit from compiling all available waste documentation, including prior waste audits, waste collection contracts, waste transfer and consignment notes, among others. Gathering this information will establish all the knowns in preparation for on-site observation.

💡 Disposal: Your business is responsible for its waste until the end of its life cycle, so it’s essential that you research what happens to it after collection. For example, ensuring that dry recyclables are taken to a recycling centre and not illegally exported and general waste is disposed of in an incinerator or landfill.

2. Observation

This phase involves collecting data on all aspects of your business’s waste cycle. You need to observe how waste is generated, whether any prevention measures are in place, if staff are using the correct commercial waste bins, the frequency and method of waste clearance, etc.

The duration of this phase varies. It might take a few minutes daily over a week for a small shop, but it may take a whole year for a farm with a variety of products.

Consider these questions during your audit:

  • What waste prevention measures (re-using, repairing, recycling, recovering) are in place?
  • Is waste being segregated correctly into the designated waste streams?
  • How much waste is generated for each stream (typically measured in litres)?
  • Are there sufficient internal bin stations for convenience?
  • Are the collection bins and their frequency adequate for peak volumes?
  • Is the bin area accessible, well-organised, and secure?
  • Do staff understand the waste management system and the importance of effective waste management?

💡 Interviews: Speaking with managers and staff before or during the observation period can be invaluable. It ensures focus on relevant areas and incorporates anecdotal evidence.

3. Analysis

Although much of the analysis occurs during data collection (it quickly becomes clear what is working well and what isn’t), conducting further analysis a few days later ensures you have completed everything.

This gives you time to reflect on the disparities between the real-world observations and the ideal waste management scenario that goes beyond the minimum duty of care requirements.

Now is the time to calculate recycling rates, assess waste volume variance, determine ideal bin sizes, ascertain the number and location of bin stations, evaluate optimal collection frequencies, and consider any electronic waste charities or buy-back schemes, etc.

4. Improvements

The final stage involves proposing improvements based on the analysis. These proposed changes should begin with the easiest, cheapest, and most impactful actions (e.g., simple staff training, introducing dry mixed recycling, starting a composting programme) and progress to more complex, expensive, and time-consuming initiatives (e.g., securing sustainable suppliers, altering office layout or product design, or implementing a repair and buy-back scheme for electronics).

💡 Not Rocket Science: Completing a waste audit, no matter how simple or general, usually reveals that waste management is not rocket science. Minuscule changes like implementing recycling and separating commercial food waste for composting can significantly decrease general waste volumes by orders of magnitude, saving your business money while earning an eco-friendly reputation.

Who can I hire to do a waste audit?

To start, consider hiring yourself or someone from your team! Waste audits only require minimal time and commitment to understanding your business’s responsibilities and guiding your waste management following the waste hierarchy.

We recommend comparing commercial waste disposal providers. Many waste providers offer free, impartial waste audits to both help you understand your waste needs and allow them to tailor their services to your requirements.

Undertaking a waste audit is highly recommended. At the very least, it will save money. At best, it positions your business as a leader in sustainability, attracting top talent passionate about working for environmentally responsible companies.

Commercial Waste Audits – FAQs

Our business waste experts answer commonly asked questions on commercial waste audits in the UK.

Are commercial waste audits compulsory?

No, commercial waste audits (or waste management plans) are not compulsory for your business to meet its duty of care. However, conducting one is recommended to ensure full compliance and to avoid potential fines from the relevant regulator.

Also, regulations are rapidly evolving, and waste audits may become necessary.

Do I need to hire a third party for a waste audit?

No. If you’re a small business such as a cafe, office or even a school, you can easily conduct an internal audit by following these four simple steps.

However, large businesses may benefit from complementing their internal audit with that conducted by a third party to ensure comprehensive coverage and relevant documentation for shareholder communications.

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