A “Dumpster Dive” Could Save Your Job

“Dumpster Diving” is a recycling concept to show what is not being properly sorted either on the shop floor, or in the facility’s waste management process.

Originally, it was used as a way to start a recycling program in a company that had not previously done any recycling. It is now commonly used:

  • First, more advanced recycling programs as a check on zero-waste progress, and
  • Second, to find new opportunities for recycling.

Industrial Espionage of Your Garbage

The third, and possibly the most interesting, is its industrial espionage angle. If you carefully sort through the dumpster waste, you can find things that probably should not be thrown out, or should at least be shredded and destroyed for security reasons. This may seem far-fetched; however one client found a large number of different types of their product in the dumpster going to an unsecure landfill and passing through several transfer stations, then being sold on the Internet through a secondary materials marketplace!

So how do you do a dumpster dive? Five easy steps.

1. Gather your team

This should be comprised of people from various disciplines within the company: the facilities manager, the purchasing department, the production department, perhaps accounting or finance, etc.

2. Pick a designated period of time for which trash will be monitored

Then set aside specific areas in the plant to collect the trash that would normally go directly into the dumpster.

REcycling Area Roped Off

Source: Photo by Mitch Kennedy

Dumpster-divers frequently utilize the standard collection methods, whether that is the facilities management team making regular rounds, or the contracted waste hauler coming in and removing specific totes, skids or dumpsters.It is important that only the team know this is happening. It must seem as if it is business as usual.

3. Review

After the waste has been collected for one shift, one day, or one week, depending upon the volume and your curiosity, assemble the team for review. I recommend everyone involved wear the following gear: goggles, disposable coveralls, gloves and booties.

Sort the various components of the trash into specific piles. For example: recyclables that should be recycled, new materials that could be recycled, proprietary or classified documents and products, and other.

Your team can simply weigh the amounts, or make a physical count of the number of pieces.

4. Total this data on a spreadsheet

Once the data has been assembled, gather the team for a meeting, and analyze the data. You should be able to pull data from waste hauler invoices, purchasing reports and production figures to attach dollars to the amounts that are currently going out, and waste that perhaps people haven’t thought of in terms of company revenue and profits. Ideally someone from purchasing and / or finance can attach some dollars to the quantities that you collected, and project this to annual amounts.

5. Write up the report

Have an intern write up a brief summary of the findings, present it to the team as well as upper management, and have the team brainstorm a number of ways to address the issues that have come up.

Examples of things found on Dumpster Dives:

– 50% of weight was left-over soda in lunch room beverage cups

– 30% was food scraps which could be diverted to a local farm for livestock feed

– 10% was good product thrown out without destruction

– 20% was documents with sensitive production-run data that should have been shredded

– 5% was personnel data that would be considered private and confidential

– 1% was food and beverage containers which came from an area where food and beverages were not allowed to be

– 4% was off-spec product from an area of the shop that was reporting much lower error / quality issues than were actually occurring

Happy diving!

What have you found while dumpster diving?

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