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Beyond the Loading Dock: A Look at Onsite Waste Management

A common practice in the environmental, health, and safety (EHS) industry is to establish a waste program with a vendor that strictly performs pickups of bulk waste and drummed waste (often packed chemical bottles). This is known as working with “waste vendors” that simply pick up waste, load it into their vehicles, haul it away, and then repeat the process without having much visibility into the EHS compliance or program on site.

In recent years, a transition has occurred: EHS departments are becoming stretched thin and need to rely on a full-service provider that can go beyond their loading dock and into the facility to manage all the details of their waste program. Such a provider would offer turnkey services spanning from onsite staff support, waste management and disposal, field service and engineering support, and EHS compliance consulting. Misconceptions about this transition often hold EHS groups back from making one of the best decisions they could for the growth of their program and their business. As experts in providing onsite waste management, we have come across these five common misconceptions about partnering with a full-service provider:

  • Misconception #1: Turnkey program management distances the EHS department from the details of the program.
  • Misconception #2: By having to manage all waste aspects, the resource placed on site won’t be a technical expert.
  • Misconception #3: The program can’t scale as organizational demands grow.
  • Misconception #4: The provider will still only be focused on moving waste out of the building.
  • Misconception #5: If waste is the focus, then sustainability initiatives will take a back seat.

In the next sections, I debunk these misconceptions and explain why partnering with an onsite waste management provider is beneficial.

Maintain Ongoing Communication

If you bring an expert on site who assists with waste collection, segregation, and consolidation as well as performs routine regulatory inspections, your EHS team can focus on other business-sensitive responsibilities. One concern is that there will be too much separation between the onsite waste management provider and the internal EHS team, but ongoing communication is critical to making this partnership work effectively.

A key to keeping the communication between the onsite staff and your organization wired tight is by establishing clear expectations from the beginning. The frequency and method of communication will depend on your site’s needs. For instance, if onsite support is only required a few hours per week, then there will be less to communicate than a program requiring several full-time support staff. Expectations of what needs to be communicated and to whom also keeps your EHS program owner in tune with everything occurring on site. And by being there regularly, the waste specialists will become well-known faces around the facility and will be able to help identify areas of improvement or success more frequently for the EHS department. The onsite specialists will truly become an extension of your EHS team.

Staff Appropriate Technical Resources

When placing our experts on site, we strive to match our employees with the EHS program owner by using technical knowledge, personality type, drive, and communication assessments. It is also important to understand the specific needs of the organization. For example, a facility with only a handful of non-hazardous waste profiles will require an onsite resource who has a different skillset than a resource at a facility with numerous profiles varying from non-hazardous to high-hazardous. As organizations grow so does the technical level of the program, so we often re-evaluate its scope to make sure it’s in line with the people placed on site.

Focus on Scalability

Starting with the first meeting and continuing with routine onsite meetings, the growth of your organization is an ongoing discussion topic. This allows for the appropriate scaling up or down of resources relative to labor, equipment, and vehicle needs. It’s also through these meetings that a program requiring multiple onsite resources who have different technical ability will be discussed and established. Consider, for example, a pharmaceutical organization that routinely generates both biohazardous waste and specialized chemical waste. It’s possible to staff a resource at a different level for each need, enabling the organization to grow without worrying about proper onsite resources.  

Uncover Efficiencies

As an organization transitions from using a waste-hauling vendor to partnering with an onsite waste management provider, it will uncover efficiencies that will lower the overall economic impact. A few examples of such efficiencies include:

  • Stopping the practice of “stashing” chemical bottles in the main accumulation area and then scheduling a lab pack that would take up time and floor space
  • Using more efficient containers for consolidation and disposal
  • Setting up custom inspections; for example, spill kit inspections to reduce the downtime of an employee trying to find the correct spill supplies when a kit hasn’t been restocked

We task our onsite specialists with identifying KPIs on how the program is performing, and what areas could be improved to help achieve those KPIs. After agreeing upon the KPIs with the EHS department, finding efficiencies becomes part of our routine activities.

Achieve Sustainability Goals

Lastly, a common misconception is that if the focus is on the waste program, then time isn’t spent on finding sustainable options. Overcoming this goes back to how expectations are set from the start of the engagement. At the onset of the program, our teams discuss and agree upon expectations related to the organizational goals. As a company focused on your EHS program’s overall success, and not limited by the success of simply picking up drums, we understand that finding innovative sustainability targets is important. Consider, for example, companies in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries. They are always setting new goals to attain true sustainability, which can come in the form of zero to landfill, zero waste, or a percentage decrease of waste. We’ve helped organizations reach these ambitious goals.

Onsite Waste Management in Action

Let’s look at a recent example. At a client site, the laboratory staff was managing the facility’s waste program. They realized they needed a partner that could provide onsite resources to handle their waste streams and manage the overall program. After a meeting to understand the scope of work, we narrowed the 200 employees who were handling the waste down to two full-time onsite specialists. As we began the program, we established a pack-as-you-go strategy to prevent collection totes in the main accumulation area from being out of compliance due to being overfilled and outdated. This also eliminated the need for a multi-day lab pack with multiple technicians packing the material. As a result, the researchers and lab staff were freed up to focus on their lab work – their core responsibilities that grow their organization.

Conclusion

If your EHS program involves a vendor that simply picks up waste or schedules lab packs, I encourage you to think of how having a partner manage the onsite aspects of your program would enable you to focus your effort and time on organizational goals that have been on the back burner. For more information, register for our "How to Get the Most Out of Your Hazardous Waste Partnership" webinar. If you’d like to discuss working with an onsite partner, please contact us

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