The Pilot Waste Audit Project

This was a 12-week pilot project consisting of recycling bin audits at two UCSC colleges. It is the first phase in the Waste Not, Want Not initiative, a new program launched by the Sustainable Systems Research Foundation (SSRF) to work with the University of California and the City and County of Santa Cruz to address the region’s ongoing waste crisis. SSRF collaborated on PWAP with two UCSC departments—the Sustainability Office and the Resource Recovery Unit—to test the impact of service, signage, and educational changes on recycling contamination rates. The results of this pilot will be used to influence and ensure the maximum effectiveness of educational consciousness- raising efforts and changes to waste management infrastructure in support of the UC Zero Waste commitment.

The PWAP is the first step in our “Waste Not, Want Not” program, a new initiative to work with the University of California and the City and County of Santa Cruz to address the region’s looming waste management crisis. To learn more about this and other initiatives, please visit the Programs page.

SSRF is collaborating with the UCSC Resource Recovery Unit (RRU) on PWAP, a 12-week pilot project that relies on audits of the recycling bin contents at two UCSC Colleges. RRU is planning to test changes to services, signage, and education to improve waste stream characterization, diversion rates and overall recycling processes at these bin sites and will audit “before” and “after” contents of the bins. The results of this pilot will be used to influence and ensure the maximum effectiveness of implementation of educational consciousness raising efforts including instructional signage and the UCSC RRU overall goals and services in support of the UC Zero Waste commitment.

PWAP has the following goals:

  1. Develop a methodology for characterizing the contents of the current UCSC “recycling” program in order to determine what fraction can feasibly be recycled;
  2. Assess whether the contents of the audited bins have levels of contaminants low enough to be accepted for recycling at the Materials Recycling Facility at Dimeo Lane; thereby testing the response to education efforts aimed at lowering contaminated recyclables.
  3. Identify the problem materials in the recycling bins; using that knowledge to develop educational materials and signage aimed at raising awareness of the issues and influencing behavior modification.
  4. Develop some source reduction strategies to reduce wastes and to separate acceptable from unacceptable recyclables.
  5. Successfully Modify students’ waste disposal behaviors and practices through raising awareness and prompting.

PWAP has the following objectives:

  1. Provide participants with instruction in basic health and safety training, recycling principles and practices, life cycle analysis and source reduction strategies, auditing techniques and skills, data analysis and modelling, and report preparation.
  2. Educate participants about the “larger picture” of waste management at UCSC;
  3. Conduct twice-weekly waste characterization audits of at least two recycling bins at the two college sites;
  4. Conduct two weeks of such audits prior to the service changes, and four weeks of audits after the service changes begin;
  5. Collect and compile data in order to assess the effectiveness of the service changes; and
  6. Prepare a final report on results and recommendations for fall roll-out, and proposals for materials source reduction to reduce recycling and waste volumes.

The PWAP was launched at the beginning of April 2019, with a team of four UCSC students. These students received class credit through the Rachel Carson Sustainability Internship courses taught by Susan Watrous as well as independent study courses sponsored by UCSC faculty. The baseline audits, whose data will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of new signage and service changes, are currently underway. The final report is available here.