California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle)

Waste Assessment Report: Placer Union High School District (PUHSD)

Placer Union High School District

Executive Summary

The Integrated Waste Management Act (IWMA) requires every California city and county to divert 50 percent of its waste from landfills. School districts can play an important role in their communities in achieving this mandate.

The Placer Union High School District (PUHSD) is located in Placer County, California. The PUHSD consists of three high schools, a continuing education/alternative school, and one adolescent day treatment center. In addition to the school sites, the PUHSD operations include administration, maintenance and operations, and three centralized food service facilities. Transportation services for the PUHSD are contracted out through a joint powers authority.

The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) staff conducted a waste assessment of the PUHSD operations to identify current waste management practices and recommend cost effective waste management strategies the PUHSD can implement to reduce its solid waste generation and potentially save money. This report is based on information gathered from interviews and a walk-through of PUHSD facilities conducted on November 28-29, 2000.

"Reduce-Reuse-Recycle" is a resource conservation philosophy promoting reduction in solid waste generation through changes in the manner materials are purchased, used, and discarded. There are several components to implementing this philosophy:

  • Reduce-Waste Prevention
  • Reuse
  • Recycling
  • Procurement Practices
  • Composting/Vermicomposting
  • Construction and Demolition Debris and "Green" Building Design

District Waste Information

  • PUHSD generates approximately 2,392,832 pounds of waste per year.
  • Of this amount, it is estimated that 1,033,500 pounds are recycled and the remaining 1,359,332 pounds are compacted and disposed of in a regional sanitary landfill.
  • The 1,359,332 pounds of waste that are disposed of consist mostly of paper waste (20.5 percent), followed by food waste (20.3 percent), aluminum, glass, plastic, and tin (13.7 percent) and other materials.
  • Annual disposal costs are approximately $53,000.

Summary of Key Recommendations

A complete review of the current PUHSD waste reduction practices and opportunities and savings is contained in the PUHSD Appendices. The PUHSD has accomplished significant diversion of solid waste. Based on the waste assessment results and to ensure the continued success of the existing waste reduction programs, it is suggested that the PUHSD implement the following recommendations.


The Integrated Waste Management Act requires every California city and county to divert 50 percent of its waste from landfills. School districts are important to the achievement of this mandate for several reasons:

  • It is estimated that school districts contribute approximately 764,000 tons to the total volume of solid waste in California.
  • In some medium-sized and smaller communities, schools contribute as much as 15 percent of the waste generated in the community.
  • Visible and active waste prevention and recycling programs in schools provide excellent role models that support environmental curricula in the classroom.
  • To the extent that environmental education is part of classroom curricula, students will carry resource conservation lessons into adulthood.
  • School districts are an integral part of every community and are important participants in civic leadership.
  • The majority of the state’s population is involved with schools in some way-as students, parents, professionals, or volunteers. Schools serve as positive role models for environmental stewardship.

Staff of the CalRecycle's Office of Local Assistance (OLA) and a consulting firm conducted a waste assessment of the PUHSD operations. Interviews of PUHSD personnel and a guided walk-through of the PUHSD facilities were conducted November 28-29, 2000. Staff of the County of Placer and the Western Placer County Waste Management authority also participated in the assessment. The objective of the assessment was to identify current waste management practices and recommend cost-effective strategies the PUHSD can implement to reduce the generation of solid waste and potentially save money. The results of the waste assessment are discussed in this report.

School District Information

The PUHSD, located in Placer County, California, serves the cities of Auburn, Colfax, and Loomis and a portion of the unincorporated county. The PUHSD consists of three high schools, a continuing education/alternative school, and one adolescent day treatment center. Approximately 402 certificated and classified staff serve the PUHSD’s 4,687 high school students. In addition to the school facilities, the PUHSD’s operations include an administrative office, maintenance and operations, and three centralized food service facilities. Transportation services for the PUHSD are contracted out through a joint powers authority. Over the next three years, PUHSD plans to complete approximately 154,000 square feet of new school construction and 50,000 square feet of modernization /remodeling.

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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

"Reduce-Reuse-Recycle" is a resource conservation philosophy promoting reduction in solid waste generation through changes in the way materials are purchased, used and discarded. This section summarizes how this approach applies to the waste management system within a typical school district.

Reduce--Waste Prevention

Very often, managers look to recycling first when pursuing waste reduction. Recycling can divert large volumes of material from the waste stream and reduce disposal costs. However, preventing waste from occurring (also called source reduction) is an even more important part of a waste management program, reducing both waste and cost.

Everything that goes into the trash bin is something that was purchased. Throwing the item in the trash bin adds the cost of disposal to the original price of the item. Whatever can be diverted from the trash bin by waste prevention, reuse or recycling will result in disposal cost savings.

Waste prevention strategies include:

  • Copying on both sides of a sheet of paper (double-sided copying).
  • Ordering bulk supplies to reduce excess packaging.
  • Grasscycling.
  • Xeriscaping.


Reusing materials can save money and contribute to resource conservation. Material exchange centers serve as clearinghouses for new and used material, supplies and equipment. These materials are available at little or no cost to institutions such as school districts.

Reuse strategies include:

  • Using reusable rather than disposable food serving trays and eating utensils.
  • Reusing packing boxes or sending them back to the vendor/manufacturer.
  • Donating excess and leftover food to food banks and food rescue programs;.
  • Donating used items to local charities or other nonprofit organizations.
  • Participating in local and global book exchanges.
  • Securing or exchanging materials through material exchange centers such as CalMAX.
  • Utilizing federal, State, and local surplus programs.


A recycling program is more than collecting beverage containers such as aluminum cans, glass, and some plastic containers. White paper, mixed paper, newspaper, corrugated cardboard, tin cans, and scrap metal all have recycle value as well. Every municipality and region has a different waste management infrastructure, so it is important for school districts to work closely with the local jurisdiction solid waste management and recycling coordinator and waste haulers to maximize opportunities to recover recyclables from the waste stream.

There are five essential elements to a good recycling program:

  • A written district-wide waste reduction policy.
  • Guidelines, education and training for students, teachers, administrators, custodians, and staff within each district department.
  • Review and negotiation of recycling and disposal contracts, taking into account the variety of materials, collection schedules, cost/revenue, training, education, resources (e.g., storage containers), and degree of contaminants, etc.
  • A reliable collection system consisting of a sufficient number of strategically placed, well-labeled collection containers.
  • Monitoring and evaluation of program compliance and performance.

Procurement Practices

Collecting recyclable material and reusing material are only part of the resource conservation process. For recycling to work in the marketplace, it is equally important to "close the loop" by purchasing products that contain postconsumer recycled-content material. Consumer demand for goods manufactured with recycled content will ensure a market for the materials collected in recycling programs.

School districts can increase demand for recycled content products, lower costs of materials, and increase purchasing power by participating in purchasing cooperatives. Many school districts already participate in purchasing cooperatives, purchasing a variety of products and services from insurance to school supplies and food. Cooperatives increase the purchasing power of a single district. By participating in cooperatives, school districts can expect to negotiate prices that are more competitive, reduce packaging, and secure a greater supply and variety of recycled content products.


Organic waste includes "green waste" (e.g., grass clippings and tree and shrub clippings) and food waste. Using the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle approach, a school district should first consider ways of reducing organic waste by examining the sources. To reduce green waste, for example, a district should select landscaping plants that do not require frequent trimming (xeriscaping) and leave grass clippings in place (grasscycling) whenever possible. Vermicomposting of food scraps on school sites is an excellent student educational activity. Additionally, leftover food should be reused or donated whenever feasible. Finally, organic waste can be collected separately and composted either off or onsite. Many municipalities recycle green waste by using it as mulch and compost for landscaping in city parks and median strips and for community beautification projects.

Construction and Demolition Debris and "Green" Building Design

School districts throughout California are engaged in major school renovations and new school building projects. These projects present excellent opportunities to divert construction and demolition debris (C&D) into other uses. Concrete and asphalt waste can be used as road base; wood materials can be reused or used as raw material for the manufacture of particleboard or mulch or as a bulking agent in the composting process. Additionally, reinforcement bar (re-bar), dry wall, carpet, and asphalt roofing shingles can be recycled.

Specifying the reuse and recycling of demolition debris in construction contracts can accomplish the diversion of C&D waste. Districts should partner with the local solid waste management and recycling coordinator and local waste haulers for assistance in developing the most resource efficient approach.

For school districts engaged in new construction, there are several ways green building design principles can be used to increase student performance, increase the use of recycled content products, reduce green waste with proper landscaping plans, and reduce energy costs. Architects and contractors knowledgeable and experienced in green building design should be selected for new school construction projects.

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Waste Assessment Findings

Waste Generation

The total amount of waste generated equals the amount of material disposed of plus the amount of material diverted from disposal (e.g., reduced, reused, and recycled). Based on this formula, the PUHSD generates approximately 2,392,832 pounds of material annually. Of this amount, the PUHSD disposes of approximately 1,359,332 pounds and recycles 1,033,500 pounds.

Figure 1 below illustrates the estimated composition of the PUHSD’s solid waste stream. These data, combined with information collected from the waste assessment walk-through, enabled the waste assessment team to identify the largest components of the PUHSD waste stream to target for potential waste reduction program development.

Figure 1: Estimated Waste Composition for Placer Union High School District

Estimated Waste Composition for Placer Union High School District


Auburn Placer Disposal Company provides the PUHSD with refuse collection and disposal service. This service includes on-call collection (approximately every two weeks) and disposal of refuse from the three 18 cubic yard trash compactors (with a 7-to-1 compaction ratio) at each of the PUHSD’s high schools. This service costs the PUHSD approximately $53,000 annually. The PUHSD owns the three trash compactors. The hauler charges the PUHSD a fee for each collection plus the tipping fee at the landfill or transfer station based on the refuse weight. Additionally, the PUHSD administrative offices and adult/continuing education facilities have standard 3 cubic-yard refuse bins. The three compactors, however, represent over 85 percent of the PUHSD’s total solid waste disposal capacity.

It is important to note that although the area is serviced by a materials recovery facility (MRF) equipped to separate out the recyclable portions of the waste (i.e., "dirty MRF"), most of the PUHSD’s waste is landfilled directly rather than sorted for recovery at the MRF. This is due to contamination from food service waste commingled with other trash in the compactors. It is unclear whether better source separation can remedy this, thus improving the diversion rate; however, it may be an area to be explored by the PUHSD.


The PUHSD currently participates in source separated cardboard and paper recycling programs, the materials of which are processed at the local MRF. Specifically, the PUHSD has cardboard recycling bins at all the high school sites that are used by PUHSD personnel. The high school site visited for this assessment has mixed paper recycling bins in all the classrooms and offices. Materials from these bins are gathered by the students and deposited in a central recycling bin for collection. The hauler provides these recycling bins and programs for no additional cost. In addition to these recycling services, the hauler provides free consultation to school districts for recycling, and the Western Placer Waste Management Authority offers student and staff tours of the MRF.

Newspaper recycling occurs at two of the three high schools. These newspaper collection efforts serve the surrounding community in addition to these specific school sites. The California Conservation Corp picks up beverage container recycling bins in the cafeterias of each high school; however, the waste assessment team observed some beverage containers in the regular trash bins.

Reduce and Reuse

There are a number of reduce and reuse activities in which PUHSD participates (e.g., electronic purchasing and communications, grasscycling); however, only the grasscycling activities were quantifiable. Approximately 762,300 pounds of grass clippings are diverted from landfill disposal annually.

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Last updated: April 1, 2002
School Waste Reduction
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