From paper to food scraps to used paper toweling, office building occupants generate a variety of waste — and a lot of it. That is why developing a good waste management program within an office building can be time consuming, frustrating and costly. But sticking to the proper principles and having the right knowledge will make a good program affordable and successful at the same time.

Waste assessment

The first step to developing an effective waste management program for a commercial facility is the assessment of the entire building. Office buildings may contain a multiple assortment of rooms — kitchens, restrooms, office areas — and each area is certain to accumulate waste in different amounts. From break rooms to boardrooms, building service contractors need to develop a waste management program that addresses the entire building.

To start, contractors should find out the number of tenants per office and how much trash they generate, says Kim T. Jones, senior project manager for Woodley Building Maintenance of Kansas City, Mo.

“Request the waste poundage history per month if possible,” she adds.

BSCs should then figure out the kind of waste generated: paper, food and drink, etc. The type of trash will determine which receptacles and liners will work best.

The right products In most facilities BSCs service, the building owner or facility manager will have already supplied the receptacles; however, those receptacles might not be the best option for the building. BSCs may be able to influence their customers to buy different products when it’s time to update or replace receptacles.

“Having the right-sized trash cans will make our job as a BSC easier,” says Bob Armbruster, president of Clean Team Inc., Toledo, Ohio. “And it will also make the offices, restrooms and overall appearance of the building look cleaner. We try to work with our customers and help them choose the right cans for certain areas.”

For office buildings, durable, non-metal receptacles capable of enduring high volumes of usage are best because they don’t dent or rust, says Joe Schulman, CEO of Gold Bond Building Services of Jackson, N.J.

Having clean and durable cans is good, but if they aren’t the right size, the BSC’s payload will increase.

One of the most important aspects of the waste management program — and something BSCs may have control over — is can liners. Liners are sized up in inches by width, length and volume measured in gallons. Tall and slim receptacles will require a matching liner in size. Using mismatched liners can result in tearing and sinking, says Schulman.

A liner too small for its container will easily tear. One too big will sink into its container. Both mistakes “will make a mess when it’s time to change the liner,” says Armbruster.

Liners come in a range of mil counts, or thicknesses. BSCs should use a bag with a lower mil count when the waste load will be lighter, such as paper. However, BSCs should use heavier liners in kitchens, break areas, restrooms, entrances and garages.

Knowing the right circumstances in which to use specific can liners can help reduce costs. The higher the mil count, the pricier the bag. To further cut costs on liner usage, there are some cases when cans can get by without liners.

“It’s okay to not use a liner anytime you’re dealing with nothing but clean paper or other types of clean waste,” Schulman says.

Also, never store liners at the bottom of receptacles because they can be ruined by leaking, adds Schulman.

If liner costs are extremely high, BSCs can try to negotiate with their facility managers to share some of the cost of consumables since liner usage depends on the amount of trash building occupants create — something BSCs can’t control.

Proper procedures

Large office areas, with multiple cubicles containing one or two small waste receptacles in each, makes trash pick-up time consuming and costly.

“For facilities with a high volume of pick-ups, it is best to investigate equipment options, current and new designs, and the facility’s ability to accommodate equipment and waste storage,” Jones says.

When buying equipment, BSCs need to make sure the cleaning staff will be comfortable enough to use it. If a janitor has a problem with the collection equipment, he may decide collect trash without it, resulting in a mess.

“Dragging a bag around is a sure ticket for disaster, because you can pick up, especially if it is a carpeted office, a staple or paperclip or any other sharp object that can tear a bag,” Schulman says. “Then it can leak and leave a trail.”

A large (45-55 gallons) garbage barrel placed on a dolly is a suitable option for collecting lots of smaller pickups in tighter areas, says Schulman. For facilities that have a lot of heavy trash pickups, carts can be useful because they make it easier for janitors to transport the bags. Lifting and carrying heavy amounts of trash can cause physical strain on workers.

Administering a communal waste system, known as collaborative or cooperative cleaning, where building occupants empty their own, smaller receptacles into one large bin, can be beneficial to both janitors and tenants. It not only saves on cost for the business and the BSC, but it also benefits the larger picture of environment.

“A not-so-obvious savings is that when most people don’t have someone to pick it up for them, they will most likely generate less trash,” says Jones.

However, taking the collection work out of a custodian’s hands poses a greater risk in terms of damage to the building or equipment by leakage or spillage. Schulman suggests hanging an extra liner over the rim of receptacles. Hanging it on the rim makes it visible to the office worker so it has a better chance of getting used.

Along with waste collection, recycling is great for the environment and many offices have a program in place, especially those earning U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. However, recycling can be costly for BSCs because separating items takes a lot of time and customers usually don’t want to pay for recycling services, says Armbruster. This is another opportunity to implement collaborative cleaning as a way to reduce expenses.

Waste management may sound like a simple task, but the many different products and people involved can cause many problems. BSCs will need to be organized and in communication with facility managers to ensure a smooth operation.

Gabriel Phillips is a freelancer based in Union Grove, Wis.