California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle)

Solid Waste Characterization

Waste Characterization Studies

Overview

This page contains a brief synopsis of each of the waste characterization studies that have been conducted by the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB, now CalRecycle). Additionally, each description contains links to the published study, as well as other supporting documents and data. For additional data regarding California's waste stream, link to the Waste Stream Analysis or the Local/Regional Summaries pages.

Use the following links to quickly access the published studies from the CalRecycle online publications catalog:

2014 Disposal-Facility-Based Characterization of Solid Waste in California

This is a comprehensive study on solid waste materials disposed in California. At landfills and transfer stations, samples of waste were collected from trucks bringing waste from three sectors (residential, commercial/industrial, and self-hauled). Samples were sorted into components to determine the composition of waste from each sector, and for the state as a whole. Data was also collected to determine how much waste each sector disposes statewide. This is primarily a repeat of the 2008 Waste Characterization Study.

2014 Generator-Based Characterization of Commercial Sector Disposal and Diversion in California

Statewide generator-based study to characterize waste disposed and diverted from specific commercial generators. This type of data is used to better understand commercial sources of materials in the waste stream – for example, knowing what retail stores, restaurants, offices, manufacturers, and other types of businesses have in their waste streams.

The study characterized disposal composition and measured amounts disposed for 16 specific business types and multi-family complexes. Samples were taken from waste dumpsters ("black bins") at over 800 businesses and over 50 multi-family sites in this study.

The study also gathered data on materials diverted by the 16 business types and multi-family complexes. This included materials recycled and composted through "blue bin" or “green bin” programs, as well as other diversion activities businesses often perform to reduce their waste streams. This information about the complete picture of all diversion activities was collected at over 400 of the businesses and over 30 multi-family sites used in this study. Data from business types was aggregated to estimate disposal and diversion compositions for the commercial sector as a whole.

Finally, a special study was done to assess diversion through bin-based programs only, for the overall commercial sector. 200 business were selected for this analysis, to represent California's overall business mix.

California 2008 Statewide Waste Characterization Study

This study contains comprehensive information on materials disposed at solid waste facilities throughout the state. As with the two previous comprehensive studies (1999 and 2004, see below), this study reports waste quantity and composition estimates for the commercial, residential, and self-hauled waste streams. More than 750 samples were sorted at 27 disposal facilities around the state, and almost 7,000 vehicles were surveyed to determine origin of waste. In addition to standard waste stream data, this study examines detailed material types for wood, plastic, and other materials. Finally the study includes additional analysis to: determine the extent and source of contamination on commonly recycled materials; assess the presence of asbestos in disposed roofing materials; investigate sources of plastic carry-out bags discarded in the waste stream; and estimate amounts of materials disposed from construction and demolition activities.

2006 Characterization and Quantification of Residuals from Materials Recovery Facilities

The purpose of the materials recovery facilities (MRF) residual characterization study was to obtain a complete picture of the disposal and recovery potential for MRF residuals in order to allow evaluation of potentially applicable recovery strategies including processing and conversion technologies. The study, conducted in 2005, was designed to estimate the quantity and composition of residuals generated from four different types of MRFs. This was completed through a planned sequence of facility survey/screening, field sampling, sorting, and data analysis. This study provides an estimate of current total residual tonnages from MRFs throughout the state of California, as well as an average residual profile for each type of MRF.

2006 Detailed Characterization of Commercial Self-Haul and Drop-Box Waste

The objective of this study, conducted in 2005, was to develop reliable estimates of the quantity and composition of California's non-C&D commercial self-haul and loose drop-box waste stream. Waste from 321 samples was hand-sorted into 74 material types. Approximately equal numbers of waste samples belonging to each sector were characterized. Sampling was conducted at disposal facilities throughout four metropolitan areas: the San Diego area, Southern California/Los Angeles Basin, the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Central Valley. Concurrent with waste sampling, vehicle surveys were conducted at participating facilities. Data from the surveys was analyzed to estimate the portion of each metropolitan area's waste that corresponds to each waste sector.

2006 Detailed Characterization of Construction and Demolition Waste

The objective of this study, conducted in 2005, was to develop reliable estimates of the quantity and composition of California's construction and demolition (C&D) waste stream. The study included waste from construction and demolition loads sampled at disposal facilities located in one of the four major metropolitan areas: the San Diego area, Southern California/Los Angeles Basin, the San Francisco Bay area, and the Central Valley.

The C&D waste stream was divided into seven subsectors based on the type of activity. A total of 622 loads of C&D waste were visually characterized according to 86 material types. Concurrent with waste sampling, vehicle surveys were conducted at participating facilities. Data from the surveys were analyzed to estimate the portion of each metropolitan area's waste that corresponds to each waste sector.

A modified version of the C&D visual estimating method used in this study was developed for use by local government staff. Additionally, a C&D waste stream analysis tool was created for use in conjunction with the visual estimating method.

2006 Waste Disposal and Diversion Findings for Selected Industry Groups

The CIWMB commissioned a study of waste disposal and diversion practices by key types of commercial establishments. The study, conducted in 2005, entails quantifying and characterizing the material that is disposed as well as the material that is recycled or otherwise diverted. A total of 371 commercial sites belonging to 14 industry groups participated in the study. Sites were recruited in the heavily urbanized areas of Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Francisco.

2004 Statewide Waste Characterization Study

In 2003 and 2004, the CIWMB conducted a statewide study with the objective of obtaining information on the types and amounts of materials disposed at solid waste facilities throughout the state. As with the 1999 study, this study derives quantity and composition estimates for the commercial, residential, and self-hauled waste streams. Five hundred and fifty samples were sorted at 22 disposal facilities around the state. This study also examines additional material types and includes additional analysis of the disposal rates of rigid plastic packaging containers (RPPC) and California redemption value (CRV) containers at a level of detail beyond what was done previously.

1999 Statewide Waste Characterization Study

In 1999, the CIWMB commissioned a study of the materials still being disposed in California's landfills. Professional survey teams collected 1,682 samples of disposed waste from all regions of the state--representing all major business sections as well as the residential and self-haul sectors--and recorded their findings. Although many jurisdictions have sampled the waste stream within their boundaries, this was the first solid waste characterization study to consider the entire state.

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Last updated: December 3, 2015
Solid Waste Characterization, http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/WasteChar/
Contact: Wastechar@calrecycle.ca.gov