How Waste Management Can Earn LEED Points for Existing Buildings

By Anna Munie

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program is not just for new construction anymore. In fact, the U.S. Green Building Council reported in December 2011 that LEED-certified existing buildings had exceeded LEED-certified new construction for the first time, and by 15 million square feet no less. Economic and environmental improvements are being seen by retrofitting existing building operations to meet the LEED standard, including in the area of waste management.

Following are the ways companies can incorporate waste management practices into gaining LEED certification on existing buildings:

1)      Prerequisite: A Solid Waste Management Policy
Requirements: A company must maintain a written policy detailing the waste streams under their control, and the procedures for reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfill or incineration.
Tips for Achievement: As a prerequisite, this policy must be in place before a company can even begin to apply for waste management credits.

2)      1 Credit: Waste Stream Audit
Requirements: Conduct an audit of all building “ongoing consumables” wastes (low cost per unit items that are regularly ordered and disposed of), and use to create a baseline that will show opportunities for increased recycling/re-use.
Tips for Achievement: If a company has done the work to create a comprehensive solid waste management policy, they’ve probably already come pretty close to doing a full waste stream audit. However, make sure all opportunities are identified and acted upon.

3)      1 Credit: Ongoing Consumables
Requirements: Maintain a waste reduction and recycling program for items regularly used and replaced in the course of business (Ex: cardboard, plastic, glass). 50% of ongoing consumable waste streams must be recycled to qualify for this credit, and 80% of portable dry cell batteries must also be recycled.

Tips for Achievement: The great thing about this credit is how easy it is to set up. Nearly all waste service providers will include consumables recycling programs to some degree, so work with them on recycling containers, employee training, and program development.

4)      1 Credit: Durable Goods
Requirements: Maintain a waste reduction and recycling program for items that are not regularly purchased or require capital expenditure (Ex: electronics and appliances). 75% of durable goods waste streams must be recycled to qualify for this credit.
Tips for Achievement: Consider donation of still functioning electronics or appliances to charity groups, schools, or Habitat for Humanity. For non-functioning items, the growth of electronics waste and recycling has been exponential in the last few years, and plenty of service providers are available to businesses.

5)      1 Credit: Facility Alterations and Additions
Requirements: Divert at least 70% of facility alterations/additions waste from disposal in landfills or incineration.
Tips for Achievement: Having written policies describing construction materials that can be recycled, identifying waste haulers that will incorporate recycling and re-use, and requiring contractors to identify how they will reduce source materials are ways to achieve this credit before a facility alteration is even planned.


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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