The Internet is a potent business information tool - for those who can weed through it wisely. A little planning and forethought before getting online, however, can mean the difference between learning how to better manage waste and wasting time.
Web documents can include text, graphics, digitized video, animation and sound files - a virtual, flexible information network. Unfortunately, this information glut often makes finding specifics on the Web a result of sheer persistence and luck. Understanding how to use Internet search tools is a step in the right direction in cybertime management.
There are four essential steps in Internet research:
* Identify what you need to find. Try to translate vague information into specific questions. For example, if you ask, "I need to know more about composting," you're being too broad. More specific questions - such as "What are the regulations for composting MSW in Pennsylvania?" or "What are the best methods for composting food waste?" - will yield a more concise, targeted list.
* Start with general reference sites. "Internet" (or "virtual") libraries and "gateway" sites are two types of general reference sites. Internet libraries are organized with respect to specific subjects and provide directories of other Internet-based directories. An excellent representative Internet library resource is the Library of Congress's Subject Guide. Clicking on the state and local governments' page, for example, links to a number of directories of state and local government web sites as well as direct links to state government home pages.
"Gateway" sites, such as the Global Recycling Network, are alternative starting points that serve as a central information source for specific industries. These sites often include articles or newsletters, lists of associations, products, services or companies and hot links.
* Review subject directories. Another savvy research technique is investigating sites that have link lists organized by subject. "Yahoo!" is one of the first and most well-known. The Yahoo! home page displays the main subject categories such as "business and economy" or "reference." These, in turn, are divided into subcategories with relevant links. Double-clicking on a link will give you access to that site. Yahoo! also provides a search engine as an alternative to manually searching its link lists.
* Use search engines. Internet telephone directories are useful and simple to use as search engines. For example, the Big Book allows you to research telephone numbers and addresses and download a map diagram for any business based on its name, industry category or geographic criteria.
There are a variety of general Internet search engines available, such as HotBot, Alta Vista, Info-Seek and Excite. These search engines rely on software to locate and retrieve information that may be found on the Web and Internet newsgroups. This information then is stored in the search engine's database where it can be accessed through a keyword query.
Again, the more specific your questions, the easier it will be to convert them into keyword search terms. For example, the question "What are the best methods for composting food waste?" can yield composting, food, waste and methods as key words. These key words, in turn, can be combined to create highly-focused searches. Each search engine has help files which explain how to use it most effectively.
Remembering Key Sites How do you return conveniently to sites that have proven to be excellent information resources (or just fun to explore)? Internet browsers can create "tags" to allow them to return quickly to previously-visited sites. Netscape Navigator calls them "bookmarks" and Microsoft Internet Explorer dubs them "favorites."
Each browser's help files will explain how these tags are best managed. Like all other valuable information on your computer's hard drive, back up these tags on a consistent schedule.
Key Sites Following are some key recycling, waste management and general business sites that you can bookmark for referral (see directory on page 39).
* @Brint Research Initiative. This site hosts an amazing number of links to Internet resources relating to business research, general and business news, information management, Internet developments and marketing and technology. It is useful especially in acquiring business and competitor intelligence, identifying new business opportunities or locating business management information.
* American Forest & Paper Association. General information on paper and wood recycling is provided on the recycling page. A notable resource is the National Wood Recycling Directory, a searchable database. Users can search for wood recycling companies based on company name, geographic criteria such as state or county and by type of wood waste accepted.
* California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB). This is one of the most well-developed state government sites devoted to waste management, recycling and waste reduction issues and includes factsheets, downloadable files and databases. A new addition is the solid waste characterization page which provides the composition of waste originating from various sources such as residences and businesses. The publications section allows users to search and order documents published by the CIWMB.
* Cornell Composting. Sponsored by the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Cornell University, this site is a great starting point for composting research.
* Environ$en$e. Enviro$en$e is part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Web network and is a comprehensive clearinghouse on pollution prevention and related subjects. In particular, an integrated solvent substitution data system permits users to search a large number of independent databases through a single query. There are links to national pollution prevention organizations as well as other waste reduction information resources.
* FedWorld Information Network. The FedWorld site is the place to start to find Federal online information resources.
* Global Recycling Network (GRN). GRN is a good reference for recycling and waste management issues. This site has comprehensive directory lists for associations, companies, government agencies, products and publications. This site also links to the "Recyclables Exchange," an Internet-based, buy-and-sell trading system for recyclable commodities. This system is a cooperative effort between GRN and the Chicago Board of Trade.
* Materials Exchanges on the Web. This is a comprehensive list of North American materials exchanges that was developed through the Kentucky Industrial Materials Exchange. A materials exchange is a service for matching generators of specific wastes with individuals or companies that can use them. This list includes available web site and e-mail addresses.
* Plastics Resources. This site was developed by the American Plastics Council (APC), and focuses on plastic that can be recovered by municipal recycling programs. It includes information on plastics, plastics recycling and applications for recycled plastics.
* Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA). This site provides links to information on SWANA conferences, professional training courses and technical publications. The latter includes research sponsored by SWANA and other organizations on innovative waste management technologies and practices.
* Small Business Development Centers. This is a national list of Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) that can be found on the American Express Web Site. SBDCs provide free planning and management assistance to small businesses.
* Thomas Register of Manufacturers. This venerable business reference now is available as a searchable database on the Thomas Register website. Access to the database is free but requires users to register first.
* U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA site has a wealth of technical, educational and regulatory information on municipal solid wastes, hazardous wastes, other types of waste materials, recycling, pollution prevention and waste reduction. There are many general educational and technical documents available for downloading. Good starting points would be either the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response Home Page or the Projects & Programs page. Recommended program pages include the Landfill Methane Out-reach Program, Waste Wi$e and Pay-As-You-Throw pages. Because the EPA site is so large, the use of its search engine is advised.
Internet Search Tools Alta Vista - http://www.altavista.digital.com/
Big Book - http://www.bigbook.com/
Excite - http://www.excite.com/
HotBot - http://www.hotbot.com/
Library of Congress Subject Guide - http://lcweb.loc.gov/global/subject.html
Yahoo! - http://www.yahoo.com/
Business and Waste Management Research @Brint Research Initiative - http://www.brint.com/
American Forest & Paper Association - http://www.afandpa.org/
California Integrated Waste Management Board - http://www.ciwmb.ca.gov/
Cornell Composting - http://www.cals.cornell.edu/dept/compost/
Enviro$en$e - http://es.inel.gov/
FedWorld Information - http://www.fedworld.gov/
Global Recycling Network - http://www.grn.com/
Materials Exchanges on the Web - http://www.enviroworld.com/resources/matexchs.html
Plastics Resource - http://www.plasticsresource.com/
PRISM - http://www.wrfound.org.uk/
Small Business Development Centers - http://www.americanexpress.com/smallbusiness/resources/expanding/sbdc/
Solid Waste Association of North America - http://www.swana.org/
Thomas Register of Manufacturers - http://www.thomasregister.com:8000/
United States Environmental Protection Agency - http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/
Water Quality and Waste Management - http://www.bai.ncsu.edu/programs/extension/publicat/wqwm/index3.html