What’s in Your Garbage?
When I started working at CalRecycle, the department was in the middle of a big “waste characterization” study. We do the studies every several years to figure out what’s being thrown out, in what amounts, in landfills across the state to help us focus our waste-reduction efforts. It’s a big deal and involves a lot of people sorting through a lot of trash, plus a lot of number-crunching.
While the study was going on, CalRecycle staffers were invited to visit the El Dorado Waste Management Facility, a materials recovery facility (MRF) in Placerville to see the process firsthand.
I had visited the Western Placer Waste Management Facility a few months earlier, so I dreaded “The Stink” that would welcome me, but I signed up anyway.
After a 45-minute drive, we finally arrived at the El Dorado MRF and suited up in our safety glasses, stylish yellow vests and my favorite part, the hard hat!
Our tour guide and waste management expert, Albert, showed us around the facility, including the public dumping dock, the construction materials sorting area, the motor oil receiving area, and the recyclables tent.
(Just a side note here: While the people served by the Western Placer facility use a single-bin system and their materials are sorted at a “dirty MRF” after it’s picked up, the residents served by the El Dorado facility sort their materials before putting them at the curb: recyclables, yard trimmings, and garbage all go into separate bins. So, in general, there is less messy sorting at a facility like El Dorado’s, which is why it’s called a “clean MRF,” while the Western Placer site is known as a “dirty MRF.”)
For the waste characterization study, CalRecycle had contracted with special sorters to go through the trash that comes into specific facilities and then methodically document it. We met the sorters Shane, Randy, Ed, Dale, Joe, and Franco, who were in great spirits considering they dig through and categorize other people’s discarded junk–much of which could have been recycled. They happily posed for photos and said that the job has really changed the way they dispose of their waste. One sorter even asked if I could imagine myself or my friends weeding through trash for a living. Even though it’s a dirty job and someone has to do it, these guys made it look like they were having fun. And did I mention they get to wear those cool white hazmat suits?
If you’re really interested in our waste characterization efforts, you can read our final reports. One is more general (pro tip: See the charts, tables and “Key Findings” in the Executive Summary), and one takes a look at what businesses are throwing out. For a more basic overview, see our “Highlights” Powerpoint.
Check with your local waste hauler to see what you can put in your recycling bin. You can also check out our recycling facility map to find where you can drop off tricky materials like used oil, medical sharps, and batteries.
Thanks to CalRecycle’s efforts, and to the sorters who went through your trash, you can learn about what’s being thrown out that could have been recycled, without having to endure “The Stink” in person. You’re welcome!