City Hall Waste Audit, Columbia, Missouri

The Volunteer Programs Division of Columbia’s Community Development Department offered up a learning opportunity for students at the 2017 Missouri Scholars Academy (MSA). It took 20 volunteers from MSA a little over and hour to retrieve the recyclables from the trash. The containers retrieved from City Hall fill 3 large trash bags.

A waste audit is a physical analysis of a facilities waste stream. It identifies waste diversion opportunities and provides a baseline for change. It is an excellent opportunity for hands on learning about where trash goes once it is dispose of, why recycling and composting are important, and what percentage of their trash could be diverted from the landfill. It is an eyeopening experience for everyone who participates, making a huge impact and is an effective catalyst for changing behaviors. It may also instill more confidence to tell others about the process of waste management.

The Missouri Scholars Academy, a residential program held on the campus of the University of Missouri, is a three-week academic program for 330 of Missouri’s gifted students preparing for their junior year. The program provides the students with special opportunities for learning and personal development to help them realize their full potential. Community Service is incorporated into the program. The Volunteer Programs Division of Columbia’s Community Development Department organizes multiple projects for the students each year. This year’s projects included waste audits at City Hall and two public school buildings, graffiti removal, stream clean up and Capen Park Compost Demonstration Site rehab. The Academy served a total of 147 volunteer hours with the City this summer.

What the volunteers discovered:

Sixty-eight percent of the material was in the right place, the trash. This is a slight step backwards from last year’s audit results where 76% of the material was in the right place.

Thirty-two percent of material pulled from the trash should have been place in recycling bins.

The majority of recyclables retrieved were plastic bottles, plastic takeout containers and plastic meal trays. All ridged plastics are recyclable. Simply remove food waste, lightly rinse and place in blue containers recycling bins along with plastic cups and plates, aluminum and metal cans, and glass bottles and jars.

Containers collected from the recycling bins for an entire week weighed 48 lbs. In one day, 28 lbs of recyclable containers were thrown in the trash. The waste audit illustrated that in City Hall, almost three times more containers go to the landfill than get recycled. If all containers were placed in container recycling bins, 188 lbs of containers would be recycled in a week as opposed to the 48 lbs that are being recycled per week now.

City staff does an excellent job of recycling paper and cardboard. Only 10% of recyclables pulled from the trash was fiber. With minimal effort such as placing frozen and dry food boxes, coffee cup sleeves and lids from pizza boxes in Fiber recycling bins it’s possible to reach 100% fiber recycling rate.

Food Waste made up 17% of the material in the trash. City Hall does not have food waste collection, so it was in the right place. Ideally it should be composted and diverted from the landfill.