In My Opinion: Diversion without data is like sailing without a compass

News from Resource Recycling

Corn Field

Today’s smartphones automatically find your location on a map. Not so for state and local government leaders planning sustainable materials management (SMM). The variances in data reporting from state to state make comparisons and benchmarking difficult.

Because performance in terms of cost effectiveness, continuous improvement and planning matters, collecting data for measuring success is important. We need effective, useable and applicable data to prioritize efforts and measure performance. Each state has its own system with its own terms, definitions and reporting requirements. Some states have mandatory reporting, many do not. This results in gaps in information as it is compared across state lines, making planning for program improvements difficult or impossible.

The need for benchmarks, collaboration and stronger measurement became even more necessary when, in 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. EPA announced a goal to reduce food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030. The goal creates new data challenges. Measurement tools are needed for the overall measurement program.

Program support

Measurement provides more than guidance. When a state lays out the facts showing the numbers, it can make a case to support a good move or stop a potential error in judgement.

Support for proposed programmatic changes and justification for expenditures need concrete data to secure legislative approval. Without supportive data, good ideas may never come to fruition. State program managers often receive inquiries from the legislature about how much material is collected, recycled, or disposed. The legislature often follows this with an immediate “How does that compare to other states?” Establishing the same terms and measures utilized by other states and their communities will provide the information requested.

The private sector of the waste industry frequently looks at metrics to drive route efficiencies, increase profitability, improve driver collection efficiency, track safety and more. Governments at all levels can track performance, make improvements and apply these same types of metrics. Unfortunately, at this time, there is no agreement or standard practice for conducting characterization studies or materials audits, and there isn’t even consistency in the names of material categories.

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