What is a waste audit?

Written by: Meg Beymer and Paulina Umansky, GGI Interns

What is a waste audit, and why did we bother going to the Aquatic Center for one? This summer, we’re helping city facilities become compliant with the Mandatory Recycling Ordinance (MRO), which was passed in Pleasanton due to Assembly Bills 341 and 1826. This ordinances state that all businesses and institutions need to separate recycling and organics from their waste, along with a few other requirements like staff training. A waste audit is an interactive and immersive process where we sort through a facility’s waste to see if they are currently contaminating their bins (such as having trash in a recycling bin, recycling in an organics bin, etc.). It’s a way for us to personalize our advice to the facility and it gives us the ability to evaluate exactly what we need to do to increase compliance with the MRO.

Our process:

Here is a break down of how we conduct a full waste audit.

  • We started with a binventory, were we mapped out where every bin is located and took pictures of the contents of each bin.
  • Afterwards, we spent an hour or two actually sorting through the contents of the bins and placing the waste items into correctly sorted piles, then weighing the piles. In order to get accurate data on the contamination of each, we did this for trash and recycling individually.
  • Finally, we logged the weights into a spreadsheet, which showed us the percent contamination for each waste stream.

The experience can be summed up in two words: hot and smelly.

What We Found

Although it can be hard to decide which bin to put more ambiguous pieces of waste, there are some things that quite obviously go in one or the other. However, when people are not paying attention, things can end up in the wrong bin. This was true for the public Aquatic Center recycling bins, where we found full starbucks cups, uneaten food, and even multiple used diapers. Most of these mistakes can be fixed with education and better signage. It was a productive day, but unfortunately, there are some sights and smells that we just can’t forget.