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Alameda County Study Reveals Significant Drop in 'Good Stuff' in the Garbage

September 13, 2018

Oakland, CA—A new Alameda Countywide Waste Characterization Study reveals a significant drop in the amount of readily recyclable materials in the landfill. 

The 2017-18 Study shows that the amount of “good stuff” – such as cardboard, plastic, metal, glass bottles and cans, food and food-soiled paper – make up 36 percent of the waste stream, down from 60 percent when the study was last conducted in 2008. 

The Study, which uses industry-standard sampling techniques and statistical analysis to estimate the composition of the waste stream and tonnages by material and generating sector, offers a valuable snapshot in time of the materials that comprise Alameda County’s residential and commercial waste streams.

“The results of the new study show significant progress toward the countywide goal of less than 10 percent ‘good stuff’ in the garbage,” said StopWaste Executive Director Wendy Sommer. “However, as the global recycling landscape shifts, it also illuminates both significant opportunities and challenges facing the industry and county moving forward.”

Key findings include: 

  • Food, food-soiled paper, and plant debris in the garbage has decreased by 28%, but these materials still make up a significant proportion of the waste stream.
  • The residential sector shows significant progress in reducing the amount of recyclables and organics in the garbage, with a 41% overall decrease since 2008.
  • The commercial sector shows mixed results for progress, with both increases and decreases in different dry recyclable materials, and decreases in food, food-soiled paper, and plant debris. 

Recommendations include:

  • Reduce waste in the first place by minimizing paper use, using reusables, and skipping plastic.
  • Reduce food waste through better planning and storage.
  • Ensure that all food scraps and food-soiled paper go in the organic bin or at-home composting.  
  • While dry recyclables in the garbage have decreased, residents and businesses should continue to recycle and check with their local hauler to ensure that only what’s allowed is going in the recycling and green bins. 
  • Bottles, cans, and paper in the recycling bin should be clean, dry, and free of food, and organic materials in the green bin should be free of any plastic, glass, or metal to reduce contamination.

The full study can be downloaded here.