Five Questions to Ask About Any Waste Management Proposal

By Anna Munie, CHMM

My first job out of college was at a hazardous waste management company. Like any excited new graduate, I immediately sent out an email to friends and family describing my new company and position, and asking them spread the word about my good fortune. Imagine my surprise when, a few weeks later, I ran into a friend from college and she said, “So I hear you are working as a garbage collector now.”

This was nearly ten years ago, and there have been many changes in the field of waste management since then. While it’s still the case that not a lot of people truly understand the world of hazardous waste management, no longer does the business world equate waste management with garbage collectors. Even the word “waste” itself has evolved. Thanks to increased visibility of sustainability programs, the word is now used in areas ranging from recycling to energy management to lean manufacturing.

The problem is that the evolution of the word has also created a large number of different potential meanings and implications. Just take some recent industry article headlines involving the word waste:

“Zero Waste with Recycling and Food Composting”
“E-Waste Industry Celebrates”
“Toxic Waste Dumping Foiled”
“Plug-Ins to Cut Back on Energy Waste”

The types of waste and the management methods associated with each of these are vastly different. Sustainability executives must understand all the meanings of the word if they want to take advantage of the many cost savings and benefits available in this field.

The following are five key questions that executives should ask when reviewing waste management proposals:

  1. Do any of the waste streams meet the definition of hazardous waste? Hazardous waste is subject to very strict federal and state requirements. If your company has these types of waste streams and those regulations are not followed, there is the potential for both criminal and civil charges.
  2. Can any of the waste streams be recycled? Recycling is no longer just the right thing to do. Depending on the region of the country and the type of waste stream, manufacturing plants may actually be paid for the waste materials they generate, or at the very least reduce trash disposal costs.
  3. Have multiple management methods been investigated? Don’t assume that there is only one available option to manage different types of waste. Make sure that new technologies are investigated as well as standard disposal options.
  4. Does the proposal include metrics and tracking mechanisms? Data collection is essential in sustainability programs and reporting, and waste management is no exception.
  5. Does the proposal utilize the cheapest option, or the best option? In the area of waste management, cheaper isn’t always better. If working with a third party vendor, make sure they have the proper licensing and certifications in addition to providing competitive pricing.

Anna Munie is a freelance writer currently working within the fields of sustainability and environmental health and safety management. She has 10 years of experience in hazardous waste management and is a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM). When not developing sustainability programs and making sure the Ph.D.’s in her research department don’t blow themselves up, she competes nationally with her horse Lucky in the sport of reining.

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2 Comments

Filed under waste management

2 responses to “Five Questions to Ask About Any Waste Management Proposal

  1. Good day sir/madam….

    I’m currently in the process of writing a proposal on waste mngt.for Masters. The topic is about using plastic waste in road construction which is not new technology however it has only been mainly researched and performed in India and maybe 1 or 2 states in the U.S. I’m trying to research whether South Africa are able to adapt to that technology as its been proven to work both succesfully and sustainably in India. Ive done my literature review but are unsure on how to formulate my research question in a South african context for something thats not been done here!! Can u pleaseeeeeeeeeese help?

    • David Schatsky

      I would think that you first need to understand how civil engineers and road builders think about alternative approaches for constructing roads. What materials do they use in different situations, what criteria govern the choice of material, and what standards of performance are relevant. The initial research question, then, is “How are materials for constructing roads selected?” Without having any special knowledge of this area, I guess factors would include: availability and price of material; availability of equipment and knowledge necessary to work with a material; performance criteria such as smoothness, durability, weather resistance and traction; and cost. I think the issues are analogous to those that arise in substituting “green” materials in building construction.

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