Public and private organizations would do well to develop, implement, and maintain an Environmental Management System (EMS) as a front-line tool to support their solid waste management system. The EMS incorporates five basic principles: management commitment, compliance assurance/pollution prevention, enabling systems, performance/accountability, and measurement/improvements. These principles are the foundation that can help a solid waste management system continuously improve and move beyond compliance to meet the needs of a shifting and growing public that demands exceptional value for their dollar.

The establishment of an EMS is a critical part of a trend for managing solid and hazardous wastes in both the private and public sectors. While it may seem difficult to get started with the development and implementation of an EMS—because of perceived limitations of time, cost, or commitment—the EMS does not have to be capital- and time-intensive. As managers currently address environmental compliance assurance and effective waste management practices at their facility, the data and information gathered during normal operations can be readily integrated into the implementation of an EMS.

EMSs are already being applied to solid waste facilities and systems. Several municipalities are even trying to achieve International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification for their municipal solid waste EMS. ISO certification can be applied to landfills, transfer stations, and other solid waste management operations, and EMS is an excellent complementary tool for reducing the generation of wastes and reducing impacts on human health and the environment.


The most important, and often the most difficult, part of establishing an EMS is the assessment of the internal operations and requirements. Documentation of the critical information for each of these elements may be difficult to gather from the records, and individual interviews may be required to determine standard operating procedures. Solid waste managers may be surprised to learn that operations are not being performed as they had thought.

Many organizations may already have in place a quality management system (QMS) as part of an ISO 9000 effort. A QMS and an EMS share many common elements and can be successfully integrated to realize significant benefits, such as streamlined operations and decision-making, simplified employee training, more efficient use of resources, and reduction in audit costs.

Organizations that have a QMS in place have a head start when implementing an EMS. Foremost is the requirement of ISO 9000 to have a documented control system in place. This greatly simplifies and reduces the effort of installing an ISO 14000 system. In addition, with an ISO 9000 system in place, top management has committed to the use of management systems to meet pre-established goals, and employees already are familiar with management system concepts, some procedures may already be in place, and some critical data and information may already be available.


Once the EMS manual is in place, implementation and continual improvement begin. Often, there is a great deal of interest and internal investment in developing the EMS, and while it is satisfying to see this effort, the real benefits and satisfaction come with implementation.

Implementation has challenges that must be recognized and approaches must be developed up front to address them. The first challenge is to keep management and employee interest high after the completion of the manual—avoiding a let-down. A related challenge is to include all employees in the implementation. Continuous employee feedback will lead to continuous improvement and will bolster continuing commitment. A third challenge is to put in place mechanisms to quantify the benefits and the costs of potential implementation projects, so as to provide definable measures for the success (or needed improvements) of the EMS and each of its elements.

To achieve the last challenge, an environmental decision-making model can be used to combine the external and internal constraints with the management process to determine the effectiveness and efficiency of the EMS. Environmental management is in each part of the model and will provide the solid waste professional with a better understanding of the decision-making process.

To provide guidance to the solid waste manager, we have developed a project checklist to help identify and quantify environmental costs. The checklist is divided into three major cost sections. To some degree, these are ordered in ease of quantification. By using this checklist, a solid waste professional can consider all of the costs incurred, thereby comparing projects that reduce or eliminate costs with those projects that generate costs. This total-cost analysis is critical to developing, implementing, and improving an EMS.

An EMS can provide solid waste managers with an organized approach to make cost-effective and informed management choices. By looking at the total picture in an organized and consistent manner—using readily available data—the manager will have the ability to determine:

  • What are the total environmental costs?
  • Where do these costs occur?
  • How can these costs be quantified?
  • What are the impacts of these costs?
  • How can these costs be reduced or eliminated?
  • The manager can then establish the most appropriate approaches to managing the entire operation. By incorporating everyone into the process, private and public solid waste managers will be able to improve overall environmental performance and compliance, establish a framework for pollution prevention opportunities, increase efficiency and economic vitality, and enhance the organization's image. In addition, due to recent events, emergency preparedness is being encouraged for many EMSs to increase environmental security and facility vulnerability.

    — James S. Bridges is principal and Paul D. Koch is senior vice president and chief engineer at MACTEC Federal Programs Inc., Cincinnati.