Jan/san distributors sell recycling bins, trash receptacles and other products used to help manage a building’s waste stream. But so does the competition. What will set one distributor apart from the next?

One way to differentiate is to sell products for a lower cost, but in this economy every dollar matters. And also in this economy, vendor loyalty isn’t what it used to be; distributors who earn receptacle business just because customers are buying everything else from them are still vulnerable. This really is an opportunity to reconsider this product category and how it can help create more value for customers and increase sales and profits.

Customers interested in sustainable initiatives should be on board with reducing waste and increasing recycling efforts. These facilities are perfect prospects for offering waste stream audits. This value-added service can be done in six easy steps.

1. Create A Baseline

Building owners do not purchase waste and recycling products just for the sake of collecting refuse. Rather their goal is to reduce their cost of removal and when possible, to turn recycling into an actual profit center. Even though the amounts being paid for recycled materials have declined in recent years, earning money is still better than paying to have the trash removed. Increasing the percentage of recyclables will save the customer or prospect money.

The first step in the waste audit is to create a baseline to identify strategies for removing reusable and recyclable materials from the waste stream. The baseline will also address segregating waste that is hazardous or requires specific handling. This new plan may also require new recycling and waste receptacles purchases.

In order for the overall program to be successful, facilities will need buy-in from building occupants and visitors. The baseline plan should involve ways to inform tenants of the changes taking place and encourage them to recycle more and use less to create less overall waste. Using less waste also applies to changing purchasing habits, for example, rethinking the delivery of supplies to reduce packaging materials that ultimately get discarded.

2. Contact Local Recyclers

After establishing the baseline, start contacting local recyclers and waste haulers. It is important to know the market and understand what can be recycled and what is being paid (if anything) for different materials. After all, a program that does not fit with what the recycler collects is a waste of time and could undermine credibility as a distributor that is knowledgeable about these issues.

In a given geographical area there is typically a limited number of recyclers and waste haulers, so the research won’t be a lengthy process. One simple way of researching this information is to contact a local junior college, college, university or technical school as many have environmental programs and are looking for internships and projects for their students. This means distributors can get some very good help often at no cost, which keeps distributors and their sales teams focused on increasing revenue as opposed to doing marketing research.

When contacting recyclers and waste haulers ask them:

• What will they accept and in what forms;

• What do they typically charge or pay;

• What types of containers do they provide;

• Do they provide additional services;

• If they allow changes in containers as the system matures; and

• If they offer any revenue sharing.

Once this information is gathered it will help add logic to the program. For example, focus on both the largest volumes and the recyclables with the highest monetary value, rather than materials that the recycler won’t take.

3. Understand The Needs Of The Building

The waste audit is more than just speaking with the waste and recycling hauler. It is also about understanding the real needs of the building. Audits aren’t a “one-size fits all” program for customers. It has to be fine-tuned for each individual account. This is important because the issues associated with an individual building can differ.

For example, the majority of waste in a commercial office building is paper. However, schools will probably include food waste from cafeterias and possibly even landscaping waste. Recognizing individual needs becomes even more critical when dealing with healthcare facilities because these accounts will include biomedical waste. Other markets such as retail, manufacturing, financial and hospitality will have their own unique issues, too.

The internal audit also will help distributors assess sales opportunities, such as how many and what types of receptacles, bins, carts and other products may be necessary.

4. Conduct An Internal Building Audit

When scheduling the audit, decide if the audit will be visual, for instance demonstrating how many bags of trash recycling can eliminate. Also determine if someone will be weighing the amount of waste and recyclables.

Some of the specific assignments can include a photographer as pictures really are worth thousands of words, a scribe to take notes and record findings, and if it’s going to be a visual audit then it is valuable to have a sorter and scale operator present. Additionally, when setting up the audit itself, it is recommended that it be conducted on a “typical” day and not scheduled near holidays or after cleanout days. While the audit can be done by just the account salesperson, there is real value for some of his co-workers to be involved, too.

Some of the questions to be assessed in the internal audit include:

• What are the generation sites (i.e. restrooms, cafeterias, surgical rooms, etc.);

• Concerns about recycling such as confidentiality or safety;

• Access to compacting equipment on site;

• Potential to “backhaul” recyclables to a warehouse or distribution center (i.e. is there storage space on site);

• Corporate sustainability goals (i.e. what are their goals for recycling);

• Perceived barriers to recycling (i.e. lack of space, additional fees, etc.).

If the customer has a “green team,” or a “sustainability team,” it’s recommended to hold the audit in conjunction with their internal efforts and staffing. A waste audit can be educational for them, too.

5. Gather Necessary Materials

Generally conducting audits are a value-added service for customers. Since distributors aren’t earning extra money for the program and instead spending additional time, it’s important to be organized and efficient. Plus, some of the materials in the waste stream can be hazardous, so it is important to be appropriately prepared, especially if others will be helping. The following is a list of recommended materials:

• Safety gear, including heavy rubber gloves, safety goggles, disposable coveralls, heavy-duty shoes and first-aid kit;

• Camera (digital still and/or video);

• Sorting tables;

• Scale and measuring tape;

• Shovels, push brooms and tarps;

• Clipboard, recording forms, pens, labels;

• Containers, garbage cans and plastic bags — multi-colored by material type or generation site.

6. Use LEED For Recommended Data To Be Captured

Distributors conduct a waste and recycling audit to demonstrate to the customer or prospect that their company is one that can create value for them. These days, in addition to any cost savings, many customers are seeking to meet the green requirements set in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Rating System and this applies to waste and recycling. It is recommended that the audit and ultimate recommendations are consistent with this program, which requires the following:

• Analyze both refuse and recycle waste stream;

• Create a waste audit worksheet to identify waste categories that reflect the material sources and existing hauler programs;

• Waste sort can be conducted using weight (physical) or volume (visual);

• Evaluate results and how waste can be reduced through source reduction, reuse and recycling;

• Set goals for minimizing waste and disposal costs;

• Description of the audit procedure, proving the day of the audit is representative of a normal trash-flow day;

• Minimum material categories include metals, mixed paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, wet waste (often related to food/cafeteria waste) and landscape waste;

• Document performance period of the waste audit; and

• Unit of measurement (volume in cubic yards or pounds/tons).

In the end, helping customers or prospects understand their waste stream will help them effectively reduce their costs and give the distributor a competitive advantage. Plus, many of these items continue to have real value even if it is just to lighten the load on the environment and reduce the consumption of raw natural materials.

Stephen Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, co-founder of Green Cleaning University and CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools LLC.