Wasting Opportunities: Planning for Waste Process Flow

September 26, 2005 · by Pete Lobin

The following situations could have been averted at the design phase if the design process included a discussion with the client, experts from the waste and disposal industry, and the client’s employees whose job it is to manage daily waste stream issues.

I have worked with hundreds of facilities to improve operational efficiencies and increase recycling. Often, we are asked to provide solutions on waste stream issues after a building has been completed. The following situations could have been averted at the design phase if the design process included a discussion with the client, experts from the waste and disposal industry, and the client’s employees whose job it is to manage daily waste stream issues.

A designer plays an integral role in assessing the client’s needs for a facility. Often, the client asks the architect to lump waste and disposal in the plans. But just as architects and designers have great expertise in their fields, the waste industry has its, too, with a niche into the world of waste, recycling, and what most refer to as “garbage.”

Garbage is big business. Proper handling makes a company efficient and boosts a good-neighbor image. Poor handling can be an unruly expense and can lead to bad publicity.

As waste and recycling consultants, we handle everything coming out the back of the client’s facility that is not a deliverable service or product. One consistent aspect of design we encounter is lack of planning of the waste process flow. Poor planning by the architectural team hinders the client’s ability to meet its mission. Often, we find ourselves working around the design rather than using it as a resource.

Poor design affects space, time, labor, and costs for the life of the building. A design that takes into account how and where waste and recycling is handled will prove efficient and meet the client’s goals.

Square footage, population, and usage must all be considered. Whether designing an office building, an educational institution, or a hospital, the answer is not just to build the largest-possible dock for garbage pick-up.

One school we visited was designed with inadequate space for handling food waste. This was not an antiquated school where needs are expected to change throughout the life of the building; it was new and modern. Whenever there was an issue that reassigned the janitorial staff from regular duties, the waste odor permeated the site and affected the students’ ability to learn.

At hospitals, waste and recycling handling takes on an even greater role because of the sensitivity and urgency of the mission. When designed properly, multiple waste streams can be handled efficiently, while meeting the high aesthetics of a hospital. However, when designed poorly, the waste process flow can create health hazards.

Combining the design team’s and waste experts’ knowledge ultimately adds value to the final product. Instead of a waste issue that has not been thoughtfully incorporated into the initial design process, the client receives value-added efficiency up front, earning the design team the reputation of providing intelligent design.

Pete Lobin is president of Solid Waste Solutions Corp., Evanston, Ill.

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