Los Alamos County Environmental Services Conducts Waste Audit To Answer Questions About Recycling

Workers sift through a pile of debris at the Eco Station. Courtesy/LAC

Consultant Jessi Just, left, and County Environmental Services Manager Angelica Gurule. Courtesy/LAC


A Los Alamos County Environmental Services (LAC) compactor truck, half-way through its morning route, came back to the LAC Eco Station to drop 7,860 pounds of trash.

On a typical day, this driver would fill the truck with about 20,000 pounds of trash before returning to the Eco Station, but on March 25, staff and Environmental Sustainability Board Chair John Bliss were prepared for the smaller mixed trash load to arrive.

Dressed in protective equipment from head to toe, staff and volunteers began opening trash bags and sorting material from the huge pile into smaller categories. Food waste, yard trimmings, mixed recycle, glass and cardboard each had a separate bin. Household hazardous waste, electronics and scrap metal also were separated from the main pile.

The crew worked fast to determine which recyclable category the material would have gone into before it was mixed with other trash. Once a bin was full, it was weighed on the scale and recorded. Any material that did not fit into these categories was recorded as trash.

By the end of the day, just seven people had sorted, weighed and recorded 6,280 pounds (3.14 Tons) of the mixed trash pile.

“It’s hard work, but it is eye opening to see what valuable materials are still going into the trash,” Environmental Services Manager Angelica Gurule said. “The information we learned can help us continue to improve our recycle operations. Approximately 27 percent of the materials we found could have been diverted from the landfill, including junk mail.”

The County recycle program can accept junk mail and shredded paper that is bagged, she said. If the County offered food waste composting, then more than 41 percent of the materials could be diverted.

Gurule said LAC is dedicated to sustainability and providing services, which create a better community for current and future generations. Recently, LAC hired Jessi Just of Jessi Just Consulting, to help with a “waste sort”. This activity, combing through trash and sorting into categories, is designed to help identify volume and weight of recyclable materials generated. Data from this activity, and future waste sorts, will be used to grow program services and improve outreach efforts.

“From this sort, it was clear that most people recycle the common materials,” Just explained. “I was really pleased with the lack of cardboard mixed into regular trash! In order to make clear assumptions based on data, LAC will need to conduct several more waste audits, but this is a great start!”

Just will document all findings in a report to LAC Environmental Services later this month, but she gave us a sneak peak at some of the largest categories of sorted, divertible materials.

Yard debris made up one of the largest categories, at 720 pounds of the total sorted.

“Perhaps citizens are not aware that they can bring leaves, dead plant material and small branches to the Eco Station for recycling? This decaying material is a good nitrogen source for LAC’s composting program, so it’s sad to see so much of it going to waste,” Just said.

At 880 pounds of the total sorted, food waste made up the largest category. “This isn’t surprising,” she said. “Food waste makes up about 14 percent of the waste going into landfills, across the nation and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Backyard composting is a good idea, even in the desert!”

Direct questions about recycling and solid waste in Los Alamos County to the Eco Station at 505.662.8163. Thank you for recycling.