What is Waste Characterization?

Waste characterization means finding out how much paper, glass, food waste, etc. is discarded in your waste stream. Waste characterization information helps in planning how to reduce waste, set up recycling programs, and conserve money and resources.

Who should use this information?

Waste characterization information is designed for solid waste planning; however, anyone interested in the characteristics of the solid waste stream may find it useful. Local government planners, haulers, and recyclers can use this site's waste characterization tools to estimate the amount of certain materials in their waste stream. A major part of CalRecycle's waste characterization information helps businesses understand what's in their waste streams, a first step in devising ways to reduce waste and cut disposal costs.

What data is available?

Over the years CalRecycle has conducted several waste characterization studies on the statewide waste stream as well as targeted portions such as construction and demolition waste and business waste generators. The current waste characterization tools reflect data from the department's most recent study conducted in 2014. Details about the 2014 and all past waste characterization studies is available here.

How is the data collected?

Waste characterization data is collected by taking samples of waste and sorting it into material types like newspaper and aluminum cans, and weighing each type. Typically, samples are taken from trucks delivering waste to landfills and transfer stations from residential, commercial, and self-haul sources. In some cases, samples are taken from individual businesses to develop waste composition data for specific types of businesses (often called a generator-based study). In 2014, CalRecycle conducted studies using both methods, and detailed methodologies are included in the appendices of the reports.

Waste Generation and Generators

A brief word about "generation" versus "generator." The term "generation" means all waste created within a jurisdiction (or by a business or residence), both that which is disposed and that which is diverted. "Generator" means a person or business that creates the waste. Local officials and business persons can use the waste generation tools on this site to help with planning. Additionally, CalRecycle has compiled estimated commercial disposal and diversion rates and residential disposal compositions which may be of general use and benefit to others outside of California.

Data Limitations

The waste characterization tools are based upon statewide studies and generate estimated data. The data methodology is based on several important assumptions, and the data has limitations. Please don't assume this data is absolutely accurate and correct--it isn't. This tool is a starting point to help with integrated waste management planning, not the end point. Feel free to contact CalRecycle's waste characterization staff with any questions or concerns at wastechar@calrecycle.ca.gov.


Comments, suggestions, questions? Contact CalRecycle waste characterization staff at wastechar@calrecycle.ca.gov