Sprint’s Systematic Approach to Waste Management
Sprint (now part of T-Mobile) strives to efficiently manage the resources used in its business operations. By working to procure just what is needed and optimizing how the company disposes of generated waste, Sprint is reducing its environmental footprint while improving the company’s bottom line. In late 2019, Sprint announced expanded sustainability goals, including the goal to divert 50% of its operational waste stream (as measured in volume) from the landfill by 2025. This includes waste generated by employees in stores, commercial office buildings, and network facilities where Sprint has operational control of vendor and service selection. As part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Waste Reduction Pilot, Sprint has committed to tracking waste reduction progress along with its energy performance for the Better Buildings Challenge.
Sprint’s systematic approach to waste management across the company includes five main components:
- Source reduction and reuse – Sprint follows the five R’s of Zero Waste to consistently improve its program: refuse, reduce, reuse, rot, recycle. For example, when polystyrene cups were removed from break rooms and replaced with reusable mugs, Sprint experienced a decrease in the amount of coffee consumed as well as associated items like stir sticks and sugar packets. Coffee grounds and filters are collected as compost.
- Education and behavior change – Sprint’s support messaging for waste stream decals is changed often to keep communications fresh and interesting. One such effort included posting quick response (QR) codes on program posters that directed the device to short animated videos describing the recycle/reuse process.
- Ongoing measurement and benchmarking – Regular monitoring of each facility’s diversion rate alerts program managers to possible changes in behavior or equipment needs.
- Continuous service level and rate optimization – Waste service needs at Sprint can change when headcount or project activity changes. Keeping a watchful eye on low tonnage compactor notifications can optimize collection and reduce costs.
- Service and commodities brokerage – Even with suppressed prices for many recyclables Sprint still finds value in segregating Old Corrugated Cardboard, or OCC, for the hauler. Sprint also offers personal shredding service to HQ employees once a month and sells the volume to a local paper manufacturer.
Recognizing that there is no standard solution to reducing waste, Sprint’s approach is to provide business units with specific waste reduction solutions customized to their needs. The customized waste solutions encompass three key areas: Waste Profile Analysis, Diversion Strategies, and Program Implementation. These are described in more detail in the tables below.
Waste Profile Analysis Steps Description Step 1. Determine portfolio footprint Are facilities U.S.-based or global? Is manufacturing involved, or call centers, distribution centers, or retail stores? Each has a unique waste profile. Step 2. Evaluate operational control Operational control includes facilities that receive a direct invoice for hauling, can select their provider, and are able to select services contracted. Step 3. Document contractual obligations Locate and review existing contract(s) and identify expiration date, out clauses, escalators, etc. to understand ability to transition providers. Step 4. Identify standards Does your company have published standards and/or goals regarding waste diversion either externally or internally? Step 5. Understand data systems You can only impact what you can measure and to measure waste diversion performance you must have a method. Is your company relying on monthly spreadsheets populated by store managers or facility engineers? Is your company able to use a software system designed specifically for waste diversion tracking? Or are you somewhere in between? Step 6. Waste characterization study (WCS) Conducting a WCS can help you understand where your waste is being generated, as well as how well employees are following diversion guidance. They can be performed at a large scale (cumulative collection for an entire building) or right at the point of decision in break rooms or at desks. WCS can identify upstream waste that can be averted or reduced and call out any need for improved education and communication related to employee behavior.
When considering diversion strategies, there are many options that can be incorporated into a holistic program. Sprint selected a combination of the national and multiple independent hauler approaches, coupled with a technology solution for its world headquarters facility.
Diversion Strategies Description Multiple hauler approach Each location is responsible for selecting hauler. National hauler program Limited number of haulers provide nationwide service to all operationally controlled locations. Waste brokerage A gig economy approach where a broker negotiates service between locations and haulers on a continuous basis for a fee, typically in the form of shared savings. Combination Any combination of the three strategies above. Technology Advanced pressure gauges on compactors notify the hauler when full; waste bin monitors for open and closed-top containers that send alerts to hauler for just-in-time pickup; cameras and sensors installed in bins to monitor for hazardous or regulated waste. Develop scope & value proposition Evaluate all program costs and savings when drafting the business case for a waste program. Costs include employee education (messaging, decals, posters), the addition of internal bins, and bill auditing (whether internal or via third party). Savings or cost-neutral opportunities can be driven by more favorable “bulk” pricing, right sizing of services, removal of fuel and environmental fees, and commoditizing segments of waste stream.
Program planning, implementation, and management are all needed for successful transformation. These elements can be the responsibilities of internal team members, as was the case for Sprint, or the program can be outsourced to a variety of qualified waste expense management partners.
Program Implementation Description Establish benchmark & goals In order to know where you want to go, you must first understand where you are. What data is currently available? Do you, or can you, receive waste tonnage information from existing haulers or from facility team members? Are you able to view billing data or conduct a site survey to document what locations have recycle and/or composting services? Hauler contract optimization Determine which facilities are under contractual commitment. You will likely discover that many are serviced on a month-to-month agreement. Either way, you’ll be able to determine if the service level stated in the agreement matches billing practices and track expiration dates for possible renewal, renegotiation, or transition of provider. Waste stream minimization Where is all of the trash coming from? The answer can be found through internal waste composition studies, vendor provided waste characterization services, discovery conversations with your procurement team, or any combination of these. Communications & reporting Let employees know how they are contributing to or hindering the accomplishment of your waste diversion goal(s). Communications should be frequent and varied and may include virtual newsletters, building competitions, fresh graphics on signage and information postings, FAQs, and more. Consider external reporting, participation in the EPA’s WasteWise program, and including the carbon impact of waste generation in your reporting of Scope 3 emissions to CDP. Service delivery enhancements This can include “right sizing” services and equipment with your existing hauler(s) to best match usage and/or evaluating alternative collection methods such as vendors who provide specialized collection for specific waste streams (e.g. OCC, glass, toner cartridges) and mail back alternatives. Measurement & verification Watch for patterns in waste collection data that can reveal opportunities for program improvement. If you are in the retail sector, for example, is there a spike in OCC tonnage during the holidays driven by an increase in sales? Planning for more frequent service can prevent extra pick-up fees and keep the external collection area safe and tidy. For the commercial sector, you may identify a location that has a dramatic increase in its monthly landfill tonnage. Was this driven by a construction project and if so, consider reviewing your Master Services Agreement (MSA) with your contractor(s) to include waste minimization obligations.
A timeline of Sprint's waste management approach is illustrated by the graphic below.
Sprint tracks its waste diversion progress using cloud-based reporting that relies on the company’s two national haulers reporting waste diversion tonnages on a monthly basis. Sprint has been able to steadily increase its waste diversion rate each year since 2008 by adding more sites to the contracts for its National Waste and Recycle Program, which gave the company the means to track and report waste from those facilities for the first time.
From 2010-2014, Sprint carried out a four-year pilot waste program with goals to reduce waste-to-landfill by 30%, reduce utility costs, improve facilities’ environmental impact, and reach 100% visibility to operationally-controlled square feet. Sprint completed waste and invoice audits to assess the portfolio during that timeframe. The results of the four-year pilot program included:
- Improved recycle rate from 23% to 46% [Note: recycle rate is calculated using recycle tonnage as numerator and all waste (recycle + landfill) as denominator for operational waste (excludes electronic and regulated waste from Network operations)]
- Reduced utility spend by 25%
- $1.95 million in savings and cost avoidance
Sprint's Waste Pilot Program Results (2010–2014)
In 2013, through the decommissioning of its nationwide iDEN network as part of Network Vision, Sprint averted more than 175 million pounds of electronic waste from landfills, saving the company more than $275 million. In accordance with the zero-landfill goal in its industry-leading Electronics Stewardship Policy, Sprint recycled all of the network equipment shed during the project: switching equipment, radios, antennas, coaxial cables, lead-acid batteries, and more. The re-use and recycling efforts behind the Network Vision project were possibly the single largest e-waste effort in the world. Sprint’s commitment to keeping 100% of electronic waste out of landfills has been recognized with a Gold Tier Award from the EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Program.
Employees also contribute to many successful recycling programs across Sprint’s real estate operations, which have averted millions of pounds of waste. During 2008-2019, Sprint collected 47,500 tons of recycling materials across its operations and compost efforts at Sprint’s headquarters diverted more than 676 tons of food and landscape waste from landfills. The addition of two cafeteria food pulpers and food waste collection in break rooms in 2013 increased collection to nearly double the previous year. The launch of Sprint’s National Waste and Recycle Program increased mixed recycling by nearly 140%. Expansion of the program in 2013, to a total of 555 sites across the country, drove an additional 143% increase in waste diversion.
Sprint’s waste program has continued to grow since completing the pilot program in 2014, and the company reached a 41% waste diversion rate in 2019. Sprint shifted from weight to volume for measuring waste diversion as a way to focus on waste prevention.
An additional measure of success for the company’s waste program has been national recognition. Sprint’s innovative waste reduction and recycling activities earned the Environmental Protection Agency WasteWise Partner of the Year award for a large business in 2013. With that award, EPA applauded Sprint’s commitment to reducing waste and creating innovative recycling programs, which resulted in cutting the volume of landfilled waste.
Sprint’s waste reduction efforts extend to enabling other companies to find landfill alternatives. The Sprint Foundation has supported Bridging the Gap, a nonprofit serving the Kansas City, Kansas region by providing a total of $70,000 in grants to fund the Midwest Materials Exchange since 2011. The initiative was based on the old adage that "one man's trash is another man's treasure." Member companies in Missouri and neighboring states connect in person and online to share the by-products (waste) each generates and to determine how these materials might be used as inputs (raw materials) for another company's production and operations. The goal of creating this marketplace was to help participants reduce the amount of trash they send to landfills by finding other uses for it.
Sprint's systematic approach to waste management has resulted in the company steadily increasing its waste diversion rate each year since 2008.
Sprint’s asset types – retail, commercial (including data centers), and network facilities – have differing waste streams and require targeted waste reduction efforts
Sprint developed a systematic approach to waste management that provides business units with customized waste diversion solutions, testing the approach with a 4-year pilot program
4-year pilot improved recycle rate from 23% to 46%, reduced utility spend by 25%, and resulted in $1.95 million in savings and avoided costs