Santa Clara University


Waste Characterizations

Waste characterizations provide great opportunities to learn first-(gloved)hand about the waste cycle and related issues on campus, and you help collect very important data about Santa Clara's waste composition. Plus, sometimes you find weird/cool stuff!

Our purpose is to characterize the waste that we are sending to the landfill to see where we need to improve or expand waste reduction, recycling, and composting programs. These characterizations will allow us to develop useful and interesting data on the waste stream that will help us reduce landfill waste from campus, with the goal of achieving Zero Waste*.

Participating in a waste characterization can be highly instructive for all participants. Many have stated that they are now much more interested in recycling and composting or that they have a better idea of their individual impact.

*Zero Waste is a 95% or higher waste diversion rate via reduction of waste sent to the landfill or incinerator by reducing, reusing, recycling, composting, donating, or re-selling.
 The team who did Malley Center's Waste Characterization
Campus Recreation

Campus Recreation set a goal to be Zero Waste* by 2020. To determine Malley Center's current waste diversion rate, we conducted a full Waste Characterization in October 2012. We will repeat this annually to track progress.

 Trash bags piled up. Malley Waste Characterization Results
Most Recent Results

Most prevalent items were: Paper towels (16.7% of total waste), Thin-film plastic (14.9%), and Cardboard/Paper/Plastic#1-7 (12.3% each). If everything we sorted had been put in the appropriate bins (Compost, Recycle, Landfill), Malley could already be at 89% Waste Diversion (by volume).

 Items that are landfill waste.
Next Steps
  • Improving signage so people know where to dispose their waste.
  • Collecting energy bar wrappers, universal waste, and other items.
  • Re-positioning containers so they are uniform and convenient.

Staff, faculty, and students are welcome to participate. We aim for 10-20 volunteers who open bags of trash and sort the material into 16 categories that we then measure and weigh. Lab coats/suits, gloves, glasses, and other protective gear are provided.

It is not as gross as you might think and you can always be in charge of the weighing and measuring!

The Office of Sustainability & Facilities typically schedules one Waste Characterization per quarter. Special characterizations can be arranged for groups, RLC's, or classes. Please contact if you are interested in volunteering or arranging a group.

Contact Us

Center for Sustainability
Santa Clara University
500 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95053