Waste Tracking and Management in Commercial Buildings

By tracking, managing, and reducing your organization’s waste, you can reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions. The first step is to start tracking your waste management activities to set a baseline. Then work toward reducing waste and increasing diversion (donation, recycling, and compost) over time.

Benefits of Reducing Your Waste

  • Save money. Increased recycling can cut your disposal costs and improve your bottom line.
  • Negotiate with confidence. The information you get can help you negotiate for (cheaper) waste and recycling services that better fit your needs.
  • Streamline reporting and information sharing. Portfolio Manager and its standardized metrics makes it easier to report to stakeholders.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Waste prevention and recycling offer significant potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Conserve resources. Reuse and recycling conserves natural resources including trees, metals and water.

Step 1: Get Started Tracking Waste in Portfolio Manager

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Tracking your waste and recycling provides the key foundation for a successful waste reduction program.

ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager® is a free, secure, online tool for tracking waste, energy and water use, and greenhouse gas emissions in commercial buildings. Portfolio Manager offers a consistent set of metrics for assessing your waste management activities. The waste information you enter into Portfolio Manager does not impact any of your energy metrics or ENERGY STAR Score. Use the following resources to help you get started in Portfolio Manager:

How is waste tracked in Portfolio Manager?

Portfolio Manager allows you to track 29 different types of Waste/Materials—everything from trash to cooking grease to appliances. Within each waste category, you can enter amounts (by weight) for the following actions:

  1. Recycled
  2. Composted
  3. Donated/Reused
  4. Disposed. You can further categorize Disposed Waste (trash) according to one of four Disposed Waste Destinations:
    • Landfill
    • Incineration
    • Waste to energy
    • Other/Unknown

In Portfolio Manager, each unique combination of waste and method is referred to as a “waste meter.” For example, these are the four “meters” you can use to track cardboard:

  1. Recycled – Cardboard
  2. Composted – Cardboard
  3. Donated/Reused – Cardboard
  4. Disposed – Cardboard

There are a total of 71 Waste Meter Types:

List of waste meters

*These types of Waste don't have a standard volume-to-weight conversion factor. You will need to enter a weight (rather than a volume) for these waste types. See this FAQ for more information.

Track According to Frequency

We recognize that in many cases you may not have a measurement of the amount of waste generated at your buildings, as waste hauling contracts often specify a pick-up frequency and costs are calculated based on that frequency. Therefore, Portfolio Manager allows you to track the waste or material according to whether it is picked up on a regular basis (like trash or recycling), or on an intermittent or one-time only basis (like a one-time donation of your old office furniture), and to estimate weights based on how full your containers are at the time of pick-up.

Get Started Tracking Waste in Portfolio Manager

Step 2: Reduce Waste and Increase Diversion

Waste Prevention

The most effective way to reduce your organization’s waste is to generate less in the first place. Waste prevention offers the greatest environmental benefits and cost savings.

  • Reduce: Organizations can modify their current practices to reduce the amounts of waste generated by changing the design, manufacture, purchase, or use of materials or products. For example, your organization could encourage employees to only print what they need and ensure that printer settings are defaulted to print double sided to save paper.
  • Reuse: Reuse of products and packaging prolongs the useful life of these materials, thus delaying final disposal or recycling. Reuse is the repair, refurbishing, washing, or just simple recovery of worn or used products, appliances, furniture and building materials. For example, by encouraging occupants to use reusable coffee mugs rather than single-use, disposable cups, you don’t have to manage the disposal of a bunch of coffee cups.
  • Donate: Organizations can donate products or materials to others who need and can use the items. For example, restaurants, hotels and cafeterias promptly distribute perishable and prepared foods to hungry people in their communities. Many local food banks will pick up food donations free of charge, saving you storage and disposal costs.
  • Recycle: Recycling saves energy, helps keep materials out of landfills and incinerators, and provides raw materials for the production of new products. Learn more in the next section.

Recycling and Composting

When waste cannot be prevented, recycling is the next best option. Recycling is about more than extending the life of landfills. It is about making the best use of the resources we have available and conserving those resources for future generations. It is about conserving water, energy, land, and raw materials.

Composting is recycling for organics. It converts organic materials, like food waste and yard trimmings, into a valuable soil amendment that contributes to soil health and keeps organic wastes out of landfills.

Find Out What Can Be Recycled

Direct specific questions to your local government (generally to the offices of solid waste, public works or department of environment) or use the Earth911 sponsored recycling locator.

Questions to ask:

  • Regional - What material end markets and processing facilities can you access, particularly if you have large amounts of materials?
  • Local - What materials are accepted by your municipal or county programs for recycling or composting? What services do haulers in your area offer? Are there other businesses or organizations that could use your waste material, like waste exchanges and donation outlets?
  • Within a Building - What services does your hauler offer for your building? Are recycling and composting bins visible and convenient?

Engage Employees, Residents, and Occupants

Once the option to recycle or compost is available, then it’s important to engage and educate. Recycling is an easy, visible way people engage in an organization’s sustainability efforts. Best practices include:

  1. Kick It Off: Whether you’re starting a new recycling program or reinvigorating an existing one, make an announcement and host a program kick-off. Have a senior leader in the organization announce the goals, why this effort is important, and how it will be implemented.
  2. Keep It Fun: Use challenges, zero-waste lunches, recognition, and more to highlight people’s role in helping the organization meet its waste reduction goals.
  3. Pictures, Please: Post clear signage on recycling, composting, and trash bins that includes pictures of what goes in which bin. For example, the San Francisco Environment sign- maker feature provides pictures that you can use to customize recycling, composting, and landfill signs.
  4. Better Together: When it comes to trash and recycling bins it’s best to keep them next to each other so people have both options in one place. It should be as easy to recycle as it is to throw something away. Make sure that all waste bins and recycling bins are clearly marked to avoid misuse.
  5. Be Consistent: If your recycling bins are blue, composting is green, and trash is black, keep the colors consistent throughout your program and building.
  6. Keep It Up: Ongoing communication and promotion is key to program success. You can leverage special emphasis days like Earth Day (April 22nd) and America Recycles Day (November 15th), and celebrate program milestones to maintain momentum.