Operational Waste Production

Sarah Simon

11 min Read Time | December 11th 2022

Key Takeaways

In your analysis, you should report on the company's different waste categories and show how such specific types of waste are harmful to human health or ecosystems if not disposed of properly.

Be critical of waste reduction initiatives and try to assess their absolute impact. Make sure to go beyond remediation.

Keep in mind that reported operational waste only gives one side of the coin: most companies also have high levels of associated waste with product use (fashion, consumer goods, etc.) - however, this should be treated in a separate analysis.

Executive Summary

Values we are looking for are:

  • Total operational waste generated

  • The absolute amount and % of hazardous and non-hazardous waste generated

  • Disposal methods of the waste

  • the absolute amount and % of waste disposed of sustainably (recycle + compost + reuse + recovery*)

  • the absolute amount and % of waste disposed of unsustainably (landfilled + incinerated without energy recovery)

  • Any fully-fledged industry average (absolute waste figures in X industry, etc.)

* if includes incineration with energy recovery, make this aspect nuanced in the analysis

Things to remember:

  • The analysis should stress the amount or % of waste that was disposed of unsustainably

  • Always look for the coverage/scope of the data

  • Always make sure to check the footnotes/superscripts to see if there is anything valuable there

What is it?

Waste production is ”the production of unwanted materials as a by-product of economic processes.”

Companies all produce waste through their operations. Some possible impacts of waste production include:

  • Discharge into water: the release of unwanted waste material into water systems. This includes point discharges, such as sewer pipes, distributed discharges, such as fertiliser runoff, and industrial spills - more in the article water discharge pollution.

  • Emissions into the air: the release of unwanted waste into the air. This includes combustion by-products from cars, factories, and power plants. This also includes the release of volatiles from manufacturing processes — more in the article Air pollutants.

  • Releases into soils: the release of the unwanted waste directly into or onto the soil. This includes industrial spills, fertilisers, etc.

Note that these impacts pertain to other topics. Therefore, it is worth briefly mentioning the impacts in the introduction without going into details in the core analysis to avoid double-countingl




SDG choice

Impact Category: Processes

ILG Theme: Resource Security

Pasted image 0

Impact assessment

The topic addresses environmental issues associated with hazardous and non-hazardous waste generated by the operations of companies. It covers treatment, handling, storage, disposal, and regulatory compliance. The impact of the company does not only lie in the absolute amount of waste produced and the types of waste but more critically, the amount of waste that is not recycled.

In your analysis, you must first look at the company’s overall waste production. Most companies now report this information in their CSR/Sustainability annual report. Make sure to report the most recent year. Yearly waste produced should be expressed in tonnes and its multiples.


  • Annual reports

  • Sustainability reports

  • CSR/ESG reports

  • URD (Universal Registration Document)

  • ESG data tables on the Website of the company

Whenever there are doubts about the meaning of something, we encourage to thoroughly read the reports of the company, considering footnotes, and methodology frameworks, as those might contain the answer to your doubts.

Please do not use estimations from other sources for specific companies.

What to include:

State how much of the total waste produced is hazardous and non-hazardous (as an absolute number and relative one %).

Then, mention what type of waste they produce, as they have different impacts on the environment, and note the effects of the relevant waste category.

As the scale of the impact lies within the amount of waste that ends up in landfills or is disposed of through unsustainable methods such as incineration, you should also specify the waste recovery percentage/absolute amount compared to landfilled waste.

Disposal methods of the waste:

  • the absolute amount and % of waste disposed of sustainably (recycle + compost + reuse + recovery*)

    • * if includes incineration with energy recovery, make this aspect nuanced in the analysis

  • the absolute amount and % of waste disposed of unsustainably (landfilled + incinerated without energy recovery)

Some definitions:

% of waste recycled: Should include % of waste disposed of sustainably (recycle + compost + reuse + recovery*)

* where recovery should not include incinerated without energy recovery

  • Recovery: Includes anaerobic digestion, incineration with energy recovery, gasification, and pyrolysis which produce energy (fuels, heat, and power), and materials from waste.
  • Recycling is when you take an item's materials and reprocess them to be used elsewhere. This cuts down waste and ensures useful resources are converted into new products, rather than being wasted after a single use.
  • Reusing, on the other hand, is about repurposing items and products for extended use.

You should include any fully-fledged industry average (absolute waste figures in X industry, etc.)

You may mention the waste reduction initiative the company has put in place. However, this should be secondary to the company’s current impact (i.e. total waste produced). Your analysis should not be based on the company’s remediation efforts.

Not to include: Product End-of-Life Waste

If a company only reports on hazardous waste or non-hazardous waste, we need to estimate the total amount of waste produced. Of course, research is required to ensure that the company, depending on the industry it is in and what is being said about operational waste in its report, does in fact generate both hazardous and non-hazardous waste.

To estimate total waste:

  1. Calculating the % of the company's total waste when the company states how much (total or %) is landfilled, diverted, or other.

    Example: The company claims that X% and Y tonnes of its total waste is diverted from landfill. So, its total waste would be (Y/X)*100.

  2. Look into past years' reports to see if the company mentioned/reported its total waste (non-hazardous & hazardous), and hence their split (absolute & relative threshold). We apply the %s to the most recent data found.

    Example: The company's 2020 report mentioned that hazardous waste accounted for X% of its total waste. So, apply that % to non-hazardous waste by adding it.

If neither is applicable, then we can publish the analysis without knowing the total amount of waste produced. What is most important to know is the amount of waste not treated, making it clear whether it is partial or complete.

Data Points:

  • Disclosed: When the data is directly disclosed by the company, i.e., we did not do any calculations/estimations to obtain the figure

  • Estimated: When we have estimated the figure

  • Complete: When the data represents 100% of the company’s operations

  • Partial: When the data is given for only a portion of its operations (not 100%)

In your analysis, make sure you add value to your readers and go beyond the company’s CSR report by not merely reporting data from the company’s report, but going the extra mile of providing additional metrics, studies, and sources to make your analysis robust and the impact value and scale are clear.


Based on the article you've just read, here are some more we think you'd be interested in.

17 Min read

Product End-of-Life Waste

Learn how to correctly analyse this topic.

4 Min read

Golden Rule #7: Add value to your readers

Follow these simple steps to ensure your analysis is insightful.

5 Min read

Golden Rule #5: Go beyond remediation

Understand what remediation is and how to treat it accordingly.

5 Min read

Golden Rule #4: Go beyond Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Some insightful tips and examples to help you move away from assessing CSR.

World Green Background Sustainability small

Let’s take action together

With the right investment companies having a positive impact on the planet are able to flourish. Our community forms part of that mission by measuring their impact.

Join Us