Why is SCS Engineers dumpster diving in Wisconsin?

October 22, 2020

dumpster diving

SCS Engineers, in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources – WDNR, is performing a waste sort to determine what’s in the trash going into Wisconsin’s landfills. During the waste audit, SCS will collect at least 200 samples of waste from 12 waste disposal sites across the state for eight weeks.

It’s a dirty job but yields information for economic analysis.

Solid waste, recycling, and diversion planners need to differentiate between the composition and sources of waste to appropriately manage recycling and diversion programs. These programs help citizens and businesses make the most out of their waste material and help control the cost of waste management.

Why not just landfill it?

Waste diversion can positively impact communities’ environmental health, reduce the potential for soil and water contamination, and conserve resources while reducing landfill operation costs. Municipal solid waste, called MSW, typically contains valuable materials. The cost of manufacturing using virgin materials increases, but technology creates new avenues for reusing materials formerly thrown away. The pandemic has influenced what we are consuming and where we dispose of wastes, from home or the office, influencing materials markets.

How is the data used?

WDNR uses the waste audit data to evaluate current waste diversion programs’ effectiveness to identify and quantify additional materials that Wisconsin could divert from its landfills and serve as a baseline to measure future efforts. By comparing the new data to a previous waste composition study, WDNR can measure the impact of existing recycling and hazardous waste management programs. The comparison further helps identify waste generation trends and how the waste stream is changing.

The waste characterization study separately analyzes the waste stream generated from various sources, including residential, industrial/commercial/institutional, construction & demolition. For solid waste, recycling and diversion planners, it is vital to differentiate waste sources to target programs properly.

All of this helps make recycling more effective and identifies ways to reduce and reuse a large percentage of what is landfilled.

There’s gold in them thar landfill hills.

Many items we throw away have continued value. Cell phones and electronics contain valuable materials, like gold, for example. Cardboard is exceptionally valuable now, as citizens and businesses are taking more deliveries at home. Organics such as food and yard waste can turn into compost. Aluminum and steel cans can be recycled over and over again to make new cans. According to the Aluminum Association’s Can Committee, making a new can from recycled aluminum takes 95% less energy and releases 95% fewer greenhouse gases than creating the same can without recycled material.

It all starts with the waste sort, waste characterization, and audit – which means dumpster diving!


Waste Sorting
We start with a pile of waste heading for the landfill, sort it, and take inventory. We don’t know yet if women are throwing out bras in response to working from home during the pandemic, but we’ll find it in the data if the correlation is there.


Betsy PowersBetsy Powers is a Senior Project Manager and Civil Engineer in the SCS Madison, Wisconsin office. She has more than 22 years of civil and environmental consulting experience, including landfill design, permitting and construction, C&D and yard waste management, material recovery facility design and erosion control, and stormwater management. She serves on the Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin Board of Directors. Betsy is a registered professional engineer in Wisconsin.






Posted by Diane Samuels at 6:00 am