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Ada County Landfill: Yes, We Throw Away a Lot of Yard Waste. Food Too

Landfill analysis: anywhere from one quarter to one third of the total food waste could have been edible.


We're beginning to get some answers to the question we posed in May: "What's in there?" That's when Boise Weekly visited the 2,700-acre Ada County landfill and first learned of something called a "waste stream analysis"--an innovative, yearlong trash count, sampled at four different times of the year.

"When we have the kind of information that we expect to get from the analysis, it will really make it easy for Ada County to help shift the public's perspective from looking at something as a commodity instead of a piece of trash," said Sarah Arkle, community conservation associate with the Idaho Conservation League.

With three quarters of the study complete, preliminary results reveal that significant amounts of recyclables are being tossed to the curb, quite literally, instead of being separated for recycling. For single-family homes, for instance, 12 percent of the waste that has been counted could be recycled. That number jumps to 19 percent if glass or metals were being recycled.

The amount of wasted food is another issue; analysts tracked how much of the food in the landfill could have been eaten rather than tossed, if only it had been consumed sooner. The analysis indicates that anywhere from one quarter to one third of the total food waste could have been edible.

The amount of yard waste at the landfill is also significant--grass clippings and leaves represent a whopping 40 percent of waste from single-family homes.

The study is being conducted by South Prairie, Wash.-based environmental consulting firm Green Solutions, with assistance from the URS Corporation, Republic Services and Boise-based staffing agency LaborReady. Samples are being sorted into as many as 77 different categories (including five separate categories of paper and eight categories of plastic).

On the days of the sampling, select trash vehicles drop off their loads near sorting crews, who hand-sort the trash into cans and buckets. When the containers are filled, they're weighed, emptied and crews go elbow-deep into the next pile.

One more quarter of sampling needs to be completed before the data can be fully realized, but it's a fair guess that we'll be hearing a lot more about recyclables in 2015.