Expert Eyes and Ears…and Noses

A floor-by-floor snapshot provides building managers with a useful assessment of the effectiveness of their building's waste diversion programs and suggestions for increasing compliance.

It’s 10 PM in a high-rise office building in San Francisco, janitors are collecting trash and recycling throughout the building; stacking bags at the freight elevator. It’s all very routine, except that on this particular night, the recycling program’s effectiveness is being evaluated, floor-by-floor. A team of two monitors pops out of a nearby passenger elevator and lays down a small tarp near the growing stack of collected bags. One by one the bags are opened and spread across the tarp, the materials carefully examined, and the findings are documented.

One of the monitors moves a bag of trash and hears a loud “clank” as two glass bottles knock together. Aha! Somebody didn’t put those in the recycling bin – time for more notes, and maybe a photo. Hmm… this bag of recycling smells like a banana peel, and voila, there it is – noted.

The trash, the data and the photos are treated as confidential; but when the summary reaches the property manager, floors that could be better at separating compostables (food scraps, coffee grounds, hand towels, etc.) and recyclables (paper, hard plastics, cans, bottles, cardboard) will be identified as needing a closer look. The managers, in turn use the photos and data to help tenants comply. Do they have recycling bins? Instructional signs? Do the tenants need a training refresher?

ESA has been assisting the San Francisco Department of the Environment in implementing recycling and composting at businesses throughout the City since 2004. We’ve found the floor-by-floor “snapshot” is valuable to property managers for increasing building recycling program effectiveness. Recycling generally costs less than trash service in San Francisco, and this is a strong motivator for managers to help tenants do the right thing.

ESA has not only been monitoring the waste flow, but also the final resting place for San Francisco and most of Alameda County’s garbage – the Altamont Landfill and Resource Recovery Facility. A 1999 Settlement Agreement between the Altamont Landfill, nearby cities, and local environmental groups established a Community Monitor Committee to review the landfill’s environmental compliance reports and observe landfill operations, ESA is a Community Monitor that works for this Committee.

ESA visits the landfill monthly, watching how material handling, collection, litter and stormwater are controlled. Our team reviews the semiannual reports the landfill submits to the local Air District and Regional Water Quality Control Board. Kelly Runyon, a Senior Managing Associate at ESA, presents summaries and findings to the Community Monitor Committee at quarterly meetings. He notes that “although the Committee doesn’t have direct enforcement authority, it increases the outside scrutiny of landfill operations. Fortunately, the operator does a great job and addresses problems quickly, so the Community Monitor process is constructive, not adversarial.” By providing insight into landfill operations and issues, the Community Monitor enables Committee members to understand the real-world constraints and opportunities that affect landfill operations.

So the next time you dispose of lunch at the office, take a moment and make sure you’re in compliance with your building’s recycling, composting, and trash collection procedures. There are many eyes, ears, noses and hands helping to keep the Bay Area and City of San Francisco one of the greenest cities.

For assistance evaluating the effectiveness of your office or building recycling, composting, and trash program, contact ESA’s Kelly Runyon at or at 415.896.5900.

<< News & Ideas
Scroll to Top