Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
Winter 2010

Characterization Study Brings Focus to Nebraska Waste Picture

Landfill PictureEight landfills across the state of Nebraska recently underwent intense scrutiny over a four-season spectrum in a search for an understanding of what we throw away.

Jack Chappelle, of Engineering Solutions and Design in Overland Park, Kansas, conducted a Waste Characterization Study to collect data for NDEQ’s Waste Division. The firm sampled waste at eight different landfills across the state, sorting their findings into approximately 30 different categories of waste, which was reported by commercial, residential and mixed loads.

“This study provides us with a great deal of valuable data,” said Steve Danahy, Supervisor of NDEQ’s Planning and Aid Unit.

“It gives us an overview of the types of waste going into our landfills, and allows us to design programs to more efficiently address recycling and landfill issues,” he said. “We will use this study as a planning tool for our waste programs and in coordination with various agencies across the state.”

Map of NebraskaLandfills that underwent sampling included Pheasant Point in Omaha, Bluffs Road in Lincoln, City of Hastings Landfill, Lexington Area Solid Waste Agency Landfill, Sidney Area Solid Waste Agency Landfill, Northeast Nebraska Solid Waste Coalition Landfill in Norfolk, Solid Waste Agency of Northwest Nebraska in Chadron, and the Valentine Area Solid Waste Agency. Each landfill was sampled four different times – fall, winter, spring and summer. The study began in the fall of 2007 and concluded with the sampling in summer of 2008.

A total of 624 samples were collected during 80 days of sorting via a walk-around process. A visual inspection of each of the loads selected for sampling was undertaken as a part of this study. The visual inspection process entailed noting items seen when the collection vehicle discharged its load and conducting two walk-arounds of the load’s perimeter.

During the four seasonal field walk-around sorting events undertaken for this project, data was collected for 50 different items sighted in the 624 loads sampled for this study. An important result of analyzing this data was determining how frequently certain classifications of waste were sighted during the visual inspections of the 624 sampled loads. Specifically, researchers segregated and analyzed the following classifications:
Recycling Processing TentsOnce the walk-around examination was complete, a 300-pound sample was taken from the load. Each piece of waste in this sample was then weighed, analyzed and categorized. Four major portions of the waste stream that typically can be recycled – paper fibers, plastics, glass, and metals – comprise more than 68% of the total waste stream in Nebraska. The largest component of these four is paper fibers and the smallest is metals. The largest material categories within each of these four major components include mixed paper, plastic film/wrap/bags, clear glass containers, and tin cans. Of these categories, tin cans are the easiest to recycle while clear glass containers are the most difficult. Plastic film/wrap/bags and mixed paper are both recyclable; however, because these materials are usually highly contaminated and there are limited uses for the materials, they are very price sensitive.

Of these four major components, the paper fibers component provides the greatest opportunity for recovery and recycling. There is recycling potential for all of the material categories in the paper fibers component. More than 75% of the metals component is readily marketable and recyclable; while at least 50% to 60% of the plastics component is recyclable and approximately 27% of the plastics component (PET #1 and HDPE #2 material categories) is readily recyclable. The glass component presents the greatest potential for recycling; however, given its weight and limited value, these recycling needs tend to be localized.

The three largest portions of Nebraska’s waste stream encompass the paper fibers component at 41.15%, the plastics component at 19.13%, and the food category at 16.64%. Combined, these three portions comprise almost 77% of Nebraska’s total waste stream. It is interesting to note that the food category is larger than any one category within either the paper fibers component or the plastics component.
The report made the following observations, based on a review of all the data generated for this study and the field activities undertaken as a part of this project:
Pie Chart The study was conducted with a number of uses in mind – to provide a baseline against which to compare future studies; to compare the Nebraska study results against those of other states; as a planning tool for grants programs, as well as other NDEQ Waste Division programs; and as a planning tool for various local planning agencies across the state.

The results of the study provide a differentiation of the characteristics of Nebraska’s solid waste stream among: (1) facilities based upon their grouping as large urban, small urban, large rural, or small rural; (2) the four seasons; (3) the generating sectors – residential, commercial, and mixed; and (4) items sighted during the visual inspection process.

Since the study was completed, Chappelle has conducted training sessions for waste planners and others on methods for interpretation and use of the collected data.

The entire report can be found on the NDEQ website at Click on the link in the left side menu for “Maps & Data”, then follow the link under “Land & Waste Data” to the State of Nebraska Waste Characterization Study.

Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
1200 "N" Street, Suite 400
P.O. Box 98922
Lincoln, Nebraska 68509
(402) 471-2186