SME Sustainability Roadmap

Waste Managment

Solid Waste


Many business materials are disposed of in landfills, including electronic waste such as old computers and other toxic materials that lead to pollution of land and water. Reducing your waste and recycling all you can is important to reduce pollution and stretch the capacity of our landfills.  However, it’s much more than a space and toxicity issue – materials in landfills produce methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.  The more businesses can do to reduce their contribution to methane gas buildup, the better able society is to slow climate change.


Gather Expertise

If you want help to manage your solid waste, there are many resources available to you. Contact your local municipal recycling division to find out what programs and services they have to help you. Local recycling councils or non-profit organizations have extensive knowledge about recycling opportunities, and sometimes offer waste exchange services. Contact the Recycling Council of Ontario, the Recycling Council of British Columbia, the Recycling Council of Alberta or an Environment Canada office in your region for help.

Gather Waste Bills

If you pay your own waste bills, collect your bills for a year in order to create a total of your annual costs and the amount of waste you produce.  Once you know the size of your bin and the number of weekly pick-ups, you can calculate your waste production (see text box). If your landlord deals with waste management, contact him/her to discuss your waste reduction goals.

Assess Waste Stream and Brainstorm Solutions

A waste audit is the best way to determine the areas of opportunity for waste reduction and improved recycling. The purpose of the waste audit is to identify the “streams” or categories of waste that you are sending to the landfill.  You will want to know the most significant sources of your waste in order to develop alternative solutions to land filling.  Your waste or recycling contractor will sometimes perform an audit for you. However, a simple “walk-through” to assess your facility’s waste bins and receptacles, including waste and recycling containers in the front office and back alley, will inform your waste reduction efforts. Have a meeting to ask staff for input on opportunities for reducing waste and increasing recycling. A waste audit can be a means by which to engage and motivate staff if they are given the opportunity of doing the analysis and brainstorming and implementing solutions.  For other opportunities to reduce waste, see six sources of waste under Product Development (Greener Production). 

Investigate Reuse and Recycling Options

There are many programs that will reuse products that you are ready to dispose of or recycle. For example, Cell Phones for Food and Computers for Schools collect useful e-waste and repurpose it. Paper, office furniture and office supplies can sometimes be donated to schools, daycares and community organizations, and artists are sometimes interested in scrap materials like wood and metal. Contact your local recycling council for more ideas and contacts.

Consolidate Contracts

Chances are your business holds several waste management contracts – one or more for recycling and one for waste. There is an opportunity to consolidate contracts with one company. This requires less time for you to manage, and contractors often offer a discount for consolidating contracts. Work with a contractor that offers valuable help to reduce your waste stream. Waste management contractors are now offering services like walk-throughs and audits. If your current contractor does not offer them, as part of consolidating your contracts, investigate the offerings of other contractors who might.

Rather than sending food waste to the landfill, Terra Breads Bakery and Café diverts all of the food waste from the kitchen of its retail location in Vancouver to a composting operation. This move helps to extend the life of regional landfills and reduces greenhouse gas emissions emitted from decomposing landfill waste.  The compost facility then turns the valuable nutrients from the food waste into a soil conditioner product, which is sold to improve plant growth and the health of lawns and gardens.

Work with Neighbouring Firms

Consider the opportunity of working with neighbouring companies to reduce waste and increase recycling. A neighbour might be able to reuse a waste material that you can’t, or partner with you on a new recycling or organics composting collection contract. For instance, the Chicago Waste to Profit Network works to identify material exchange opportunities for Chicago companies, institutions and City of Chicago departments to reduce waste and emissions, and deliver economic impact. Through the Network, waste exchanges - interactions where the “waste” from one participant provides a useful input to another – lower waste and material costs for businesses. Since 2006, the Network has created much more value and savings than these businesses could create on their own, diverting 165,000 tons of solid waste from landfill, reducing 102,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, and providing almost $16 million dollars in economic impact to local companies. Note 1

Business Benefits

The financial benefits of reducing your solid waste and improving recycling are in cost savings on waste hauling and consolidated contracts. These and other benefits of environmental initiatives are outlined in the Business Case.


Liquid Waste


Liquid waste from businesses puts a strain on sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants that are designed to carry and treat only wastes from taps and toilets. Chemicals, metals, oil and grease, food and other wastes from businesses clog the system and pollute receiving waters with contaminants that treatment plants can’t remove. Businesses can stretch the capacity of the sewer system and protect receiving environments by reducing the amount of contaminants they discharge and by preventing contaminants from entering sewers. Additionally, there may be storm sewers near your business that drain rainwater to areas where fish may be affected if liquid waste is permitted to enter the sewer. On public streets in some jurisdictions these drains are marked with a yellow fish to signal the risk to fish habitats from liquid waste and other materials.


Gather Expertise

If you want help to manage your liquid waste, there are many resources available to you. Contact your local municipal pollution prevention division to find out what programs and services they have for small businesses. Review relevant resources for your sector – there are many guides available for specific sectors. Contact Environment Canada, the Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention,  your industry association, or an environmental consultant for more help.

Divert Liquid Waste from Storm Drains

To prevent pollution from entering sensitive natural environments, investigate which of the drains outside your facility are storm drains. Most outside drains are storm drains, which are intended to carry only rainwater, and they drain to nearby streams, rivers and oceans. Any substances that enter these drains may harm fish and other species in receiving environments. If you have storm drains on your grounds, first label them.  The label will serve as a visual reminder to staff of the potential harm of wastes entering storm sewers. Next, identify key activities that take place near the storm drains. For example, you may notice that vehicle, equipment or dumpster washing is taking place near an outside storm drain. To reduce liquid waste run-off you have a few options available to you:  consider altering procedures to wash equipment indoors, capturing and diverting the liquid waste from storm drains to inside sanitary drains that are better equipped to deal with soaps for instance. You might alter dumpster-area cleaning procedures to include sweeping and using green soaps that don’t need water. Consider the potential for substituting a green alternative for your wash chemicals under Assess Substitutes below. A final alternative for diverting liquid wastes from the storm sewer is to provide a rudimentary form of treatment – for instance, installing a simple sump separates oils from water before water enters storm drains. Ensure you communicate your goals to reduce liquid waste impacts to your staff, modify procedures if necessary, and train your staff on the new procedures.

Pollutant Inventory

Develop a list of your liquid waste streams such as chemicals, cleaners and solvents, paints, liquid absorbents, oils and lubricants, etc. Review your procedures for the proper use and disposal of these materials and ensure you are compliant with your policies and with government regulations in this area. If you aren’t sure what the appropriate method of disposal is for a liquid waste, or you need ideas about how to recycle liquid wastes, contact your local municipality, or Environment Canada.

Assess Substitutes

Use your pollutant inventory to assess the toxicity of various chemicals that end up in your drains. With a bit of research, or a few calls to chemical suppliers, you will be able to determine opportunities to substitute greener products.  Consider adopting a policy of no toxic liquids to drains.  Brainstorm solutions to address the liquid waste from your business with your staff. Use your pollutant inventory and assessment of substitutes to make a plan to substitute greener products. When you do, use a lifecycle approach (see Business Planning & Budgeting) by accounting for all the costs for disposal, protective equipment for employees, and health and safety incidents associated with toxic materials.

Toronto-based Colour Innovations, a pre-press and printing services company, is significantly reducing chemical effluents and wastewater in their printing process. They moved to a complete CTP (computer-to-plate) operation to eliminate all film chemicals from the pre-press process wastewater stream. All pressroom wastewater, including fountain solutions, is either collected for safe disposal or treated on-site. Since the CTP developer is corrosive the company installed a pH neutralizer to bring the pH levels into line with the local sewer bylaw and are testing developer recirculation units to neutralize and reduce discharge of wastewater to City sewer by 50%. Note 2

Business Benefits

The benefits of preventing pollution from the liquid waste your business produces are in health and safety improvements from substituting greener alternatives to toxics. Some businesses may also benefit from reduced sewer fees. These and other benefits of environmental initiatives are outlined in the Business Case.


Calculate Your Waste Production
Step 1: Measure your bin, or ask your contractor what size it is. Compare the measurement in yards to the appropriate volume in the chart below.
Bin Type LxWxH Volume (m3)
2 Cubic Yards 6'x3'x3'2" 1.529109716
3 Cubic Yards 6'x3'6"x4' 2.293664574
4 Cubic Yards 6'x4'8"x4' 3.058219432
5 Cubic Yards 6'x4'8"x5' 3.82277429
6 Cubic Yards 6'x5'6"x5' 4.587329148
8 Cubic Yards 6'x5'6"x6'8" 6.116438864
12 Gallon Bin 19" x 16" x 13" 0.045424942
35 Gallon Tote 23.75"x19"x37.5" 0.132489413
64 Gallon Tote 29.5"x23.25"x40.25" 0.242266355
95 Gallon Tote 37"x26.5"x46" 0.359614121

Step 2: Multiply the volume of your bin by the number of pick-ups per week.
Step 3: Multiply the result by the number of weeks of pick-up per year (likely 52).
Step 4: Multiply the result by the average density of municipal solid waste (MSW) (150 kg/m3)*.
A 4-yard bin (3.06 m3 from chart above) picked up 3 times per week.
Weekly volume: 3.06 m3 x 3 = 9.18 m3
Annual volume: 9.18 m3/week x 52 weeks/year = 477.36 m3
Annual weight: 477.36 m3 x 150 kg/m3 = 71 604 kg (or 71.6 tonnes)

*Uncompacted MSW density from Henry, J. and Heinke, G. 1996. Environmental Science and Engineering. New Jersey: Simon & Schuster, p.574.

1. Chicago Waste to Profit Network. What is the Waste to Profit Network? (return to reference 1)

2. Colour Innovations. Environmental Initiatives. (return to reference 2)

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