Lessons Learned From the Garbage Bin

The 2017 GRESB Assessment uncovered the challenges Healthy Buildings’ clients face with capturing accurate waste data. While EPA’s Portfolio Manager tool now provides a waste tracking tool, most waste haulers do not provide accurate ongoing data. This prompted an exploration of solutions to improve ongoing waste data accuracy at both the tenant and building-level. Waste tracking can be difficult since utility bills are not based on consumption or usage. Certification and assessment programs like GRESB, LEED, ZeroWaste, etc. have different requirements for measuring and calculating waste diversion, so while the sustainability industry is responding to the movement toward dynamic data tracking, we decided to survey some client efforts at waste data tracking and experiment in-house with our Green Team.
We began with analyzing our own office-based waste streams as a test case, and conceiving a program to track portfolio-level waste. We gained meaningful insight into our own waste reduction opportunities, and developed solutions for our clients in support of the GRESB assessment.
We conducted waste audits at our offices, established waste diversion baselines, and developed a competition for waste reduction improvement. Target reduction goals were established per property. Properties will be re-assessed to determine the offices with the greatest improvements. Some opportunities for increased diversion uncovered are listed below:

  • Research local waste hauling specifics (e.g. what can and can’t be recycled, is organics collection available?)
  • Use reusable plates, mugs and silverware
  • Use reusable or compostable K cups if necessary
  • Inform employees that cardboard coffee cup holders and lids are recyclable
  • Quick-rinse and recycle food containers
  • Switch from disposable to rechargeable batteries
  • Establish a composting program
  • Provide bags next to the door for takeout lunches and/or shopping


Our first step to developing a robust waste reduction program was to establish a top-down message from our CEO; Simon Turner issued an email blast and spoke to personal challenges he faces with waste reduction and made a personal commitment to action.
We established a waste reduction challenge with a reward. This propelled accountability for personal actions through a spirited competition. Green Team members dreamed up incentives like extra paid time off, a pizza party, or gift cards; we opted for sustainably made reusable steel mugs to promote walking the talk. Below are the steps to kicking off a small scale (tenant-based) waste assessment which should begin with defining an action plan and measurement strategy based on your goals.

  1. Establish a waste diversion baseline by conducting a mini-waste audit over the course of a week
    • Capture bin sizes
    • Estimate fullness of recycling and trash bins using quarter, half, three-quarters, or full
    • Take pictures of trash and recycling containers

OR perform a formal waste audit with a full 24-hour sample and weigh each material type

  1. Publicize the office’s diversion rates with a competition and rewards
  2. Define reduction opportunities through a Green Team representative, and present a plan to all employees
  3. Conduct follow up mini-audits to determine the new diversion rates
  4. Publicize winner
  5. Issue rewards (ideally something that works toward waste reduction goals – i.e. reusable mugs)

We converted the lessons learned in our offices into how commercial real estate can capture ongoing/dynamic GRESB waste data without conducting waste audits.  Below is a very low-tech measurement tool for waste tracking. One of our clients is currently testing the strategy with a security guard eye-balling the dumpsters over the course of a week and extrapolating.

Reach out to Healthy Buildings for GRESB consulting, to receive a waste audit or sustainability consulting services, or for assistance capturing waste data for your 2018 GRESB Assesment. Contact Gwen Merkin: [email protected] or 917-828-1293.
This article is written by Gwen S. Merkin, Program Manager, Corporate Sustainability.

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