Waste audit finds reduced percentage of food waste

Contributed photo
County Commissioner Dan Bucholz and staff members from the county solid waste department.

The Otter Tail County Solid Waste Department held its 5th waste audit of residential garbage last week. Past waste audits were held in 2015 prior to single-sort recycling being implemented in Fergus Falls and Perham, and following that in 2017, 2019, 2021 and 2023.

More than 20 people participated in the 2023 waste audit. Volunteers are given an orientation that includes information about safety, privacy, and waste sorting categories before assisting with the waste audit.

“Thank you to the volunteers that helped at this year’s Waste Audit. It is important to measure the impacts of our services and programs, and the Waste Audit is an example of how we can measure the effectiveness of Solid Waste programs and services in particular,” said County Commissioner Dan Bucholz

Garbage from 230 households in the same neighborhood was collected for each audit, brought to the Recycling Center, and sorted by hand into the following categories: garbage (for example non-recyclable packaging, bags, pet waste, personal hygiene products), recycling (plastic containers, glass, metal cans, paper, cardboard), organic waste such as food scraps or wasted food, Household Hazardous Waste (paint, cleaners, rechargeable batteries), reusables (items that could have been donated or used in some other way such as toys, books, clothing), electronics, wood, and scrap metal (wire hangers, pots and pans, wire shelving). The households sampled all have weekly garbage pickup in the same size cart and access to single-sort curbside recycling service bi-weekly.

Highlights from this year’s waste audit included:

• Reduced percentage of food waste in the waste stream from 26 percent and 27 percent in 2019 and 2021, to 17 percent in 2023. 

• Continued missed opportunities for recycling, comparable to previous years. The percentage of recycling that remains in the waste stream since 2017 continues to hover between 10-15 percent of the total waste sorted.

• Volunteers commented on the large amount of film plastic packaging waste during the waste audit. 

“Participating in the waste audit was an eye-opening experience. It makes a person reflect on their own contribution to the large amount of trash that is generated every day. I wish everyone could have this experience,” said Volunteer and Fergus Falls resident Beth Monke.