Recycling Case Studies

What is a Waste Audit?

A waste audit is an analysis of a facility’s waste stream. Through the auditing process, Outreach Staff identify what types of recyclable materials and waste a business, organization, or school generates, and how much of each category is recovered for recycling or discarded. The audit also provides resources and education for improving recycling processes.

What is Contamination?

Contamination occurs when recycling is not properly sorted, and non recyclables degrade the quality of the recyclable materials. Contamination poses a problem, because when non-recyclable items are placed in recycling bins, they are transported to the recycling center only to be sent away to landfill waste. This process wastes important resources, like time and money.


Arlington Christian Church completed their first recycling audit in September 2016.

Through a waste audit conducted by Bluegrass Greensource, the initial findings were that they had 92.50 lbs total of all recycling waste, and 13 lbs of the total weight was landfill-bound waste, and the recycling had a contamination rate of 14.05%.

The most notable major contaminants consisted of plastic bags, food waste (GleanKY leftovers), styrofoam cups, and paper napkins.

One thing that makes Arlington Christian Church an uncommon case is that their building is home to 3 separate organizations: Arlington Christian Church, Kentucky Refugee Ministries, and ITN. All 3 organizations share the same bins, so it is difficult to pinpoint where contamination may be coming from.

The steps that Bluegrass Greensource took to try and decrease the contamination rate to >10% included distributing informational materials. Bluegrass Greensource suggested keeping recycling inventory, to see where recycling is available throughout the building, and keeping one recycling can in close proximity to each trash can, displaying proper signage that highlights what can be recycled and what contamination should be avoided, and lastly, educating the staff/volunteers.

BGGS was able to supply digital and hard copies of recycling flyers as well as recycling magnets and key chains. After 8 months the follow-up audit was conducted in May of 2017.

Results had concluded that after following all the steps, Arlington Christian Church contamination rate dropped from 14.05%  to 1.82%. Comparing the initial weight for recycling waste was 92.50 lbs, but after the audit and resource sharing, that number shrunk to 27 lbs. After the first audit, it was found that 13lbs contaminated the total weight. After the second audit, only .50 lbs of the recycling waste was considered a contaminant. Given the complexity of the building’s structure, Arlington Christian Church did a great job minimizing contamination!

Left:  The contamination from the initial audit on 9/19/16.

Above: The contamination from the follow up audit on 5/15/17.


North Side YMCA (North Lexington Family YMCA) participated the 2016 Recycling Challenge. In September 2016, Outreach Staff audited 56.25 lbs of recycling waste and discovered over half, 59.91% or 34 lbs, of it was contaminated.

After analysis of this and additional information, suggestions were given for how to significantly lower this percentage. Some of the major contaminants included plastic bags, styrofoam cups, food waste (coffee grounds), paper towels, and house hold items. Some of the findings concluded that many potentially simple, yet substantial mitigation measures could be taken to help lower the contamination number.

Outreach Staff recommended changing the location of bins. Because the recycling bins were located directly outside the backdoor of the main building, whereas the trash dumpster is located across the parking lot, the recycling bin received a lot of trash. Changing these locations by relocating right by a trash can/dumpster, coupled with proper education and signage, went a long way in helping decrease contamination by preventing recycling containers from being a catchall for any type of waste.

BGGS suggested hanging signs wherever recycling bins are located to communicate what items are allowable and highlight contamination that should be avoided. After implementing these changes, our team went back to North Side YMCA in late May of 2017 to do a follow up audit.

After completing the follow-up waste analysis for North Side YMCA, there was a notable improvement in recycling contamination. Of the 57 lbs of recycling sorted, 14 lbs was considered landfill bound (contamination) accounting for a contamination rate of 22.32%. However, one trash bag (trash from an event or party) accounted for 14 of the 15 pounds of contamination. If this single trash bag had not been present, the contamination rate would be 2.33%. Overall, recycling efforts showed marked improvement and implementing these small changes went a long way. Congratulations to the Northside YMCA for implementing these changes and making such strong gains in their recycling program!



Left: The contamination from the initial audit on 9/28/16.







Left: The contamination from the follow up audit on 5/24/17.