California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Innovations Case Studies

Summary: Solid Waste Assessments

Download a full version of Solid Waste Assessments


The requirement for a 50 percent reduction in solid waste disposal is forcing communities around the State of California to comply with the California Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989 (AB 939, Sher, Chapter 1095, Statutes of 1989). While many communities found it relatively painless to achieve the 25 percent mandated reduction in disposal by 1995, many are finding it difficult to move the reduction closer to and beyond the mandated 50 percent.

An overview of the average community’s waste generation sources will show the majority of waste comes from the commercial, institutional, and industrial sectors. Waste reduction planners will need to focus their attention on these sources through waste assessments.

A waste assessment is the collection and evaluation of accurate information on the types and quantities of waste generated or deposited at the site under investigation. This database is critical for any decision-making relating to actions that could be implemented to reduce the waste heading for disposal.

Program Characteristics

Waste assessments may vary in content depending upon the definition of waste. While this summary focuses primarily on solid wastes and their potential for source reduction, reuse, or recycling, other kinds of waste such as water, energy, and air emissions may be very relevant to the assessed source. Additionally, concern for reducing toxic or otherwise hazardous elements will have positive consequences on all of the above.  In this context, solid waste assessments are a vital part of an overall environmental assessment.

Incentives and Disincentives

The breadth of the assessment is important if the organization conducting it sees the assessment as useful and desirable.

The following incentives appear in the “Waste Audit Reference Manual” published by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation:

  • Improved company morale—Working together fosters a teamwork atmosphere
  • Reduced operating cost—Savings in disposal and raw material costs reduce overall operating costs
  • Improved worker safety—Reduced toxics improves the environment and decreases personnel protection costs
  • Reduced compliance costs—Waste reduction may limit regulatory exposure and eliminate or reduce need for permits, manifesting, monitoring, etc.
  • Increased productivity—more efficient use of raw materials and improved processes
  • Increased environmental protection—reduction in waste and reduced future liability costs
  • Continuous improvement—waste reduction is a part of a total quality management program
  • Enhanced consumer acceptance—positive view of “green” products
  • Higher product quality—increased process control may result in improved quality
  • Waste reduction techniques may at times include negative potentials.  The same manual listed the following obstacles:
  • Capital requirements—project may be deemed too costly to implement
  • Specifications—materials that could be reduced or replaced may be specified in existing contracts
  • Regulatory issues—new or modified permits may be required
  • Product quality—waste reduction projects may have a negative impact on product quality
  • Customer acceptance—Perception of product quality may be damaged
  • Available time and technical expertise—staff time and/or expertise may be lacking
  • Inertia—company resistance to change. The “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude may prevail

Costs and Benefits

Total costs for the StopWa$te Partnership in FY 1998–99 was $648,800 and FY1999–2000 is budgeted at $702,308, an increase of 8 percent.

FY 1998-99 Accomplishments

  • Added 15 new clients to the partnership.
  • Developed framework for web-based technology transfer component.
  • Instituted measurement and tracking protocols.
  • Diverted an estimated 12,000 tons of material.
  • Developed first eight case studies for web distribution.
  • Conducted needs assessment for a wood chips exchange.

FY 1999-2000 Objectives

  • Divert an additional 10,000 tons of solid waste from landfill disposal.
  • Develop a web-based subscription service for clients, to include:
  • Best practices database.
  • Local case studies.
  • Benchmarking data.
  • Self-assessment tools.
  • Market the StopWa$te Materials Efficiency Awards on an ongoing basis and receive minimum of five source reduction proposals

Tips for Replication

Access the CalRecycle Web site to familiarize your community with technical services available. Use this avenue as a jumping-off point for exploring other sites for available educational materials and training manuals for carrying out waste reduction assessments.

Form alliances with relevant agencies concerned with energy, water quality, air quality, and hazardous material mitigation to develop a more comprehensive environmental assessment service, which may be more attractive to local businesses and institutions.

In this regard, San Francisco State University, San Diego State University, and the University of Nevada-Reno are offering free energy, waste reduction, and productivity assessments under a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Contact the Industry Assessment Center at any of the three institutions for more information.


Pursuant to contract (IWM-C8028) with the University of California at Santa Cruz for a series of 24 studies and summaries, EMS (Oakland, CA) prepared this summary.

The statements and conclusions in this summary are those of the contractor and not necessarily those of the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), its employees, or the State of California. In addition, the data in this report was provided by local sources but not independently verified. The State and its contractors make no warranty, express or implied, and assume no liability for the information contained in this text. Any mention of commercial products, companies, or processes shall not be construed as an endorsement of such products or processes.

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Last updated: October 5, 2015
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