Driven by data

Features - Operations Focus

University of California, Santa Cruz, uses data and automation to drive to zero-waste.

October 1, 2015

Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find any organization in the private or public sector that isn’t assessing or actively working on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to lower its impact on the environment. The University of California is one such organization, and in 2011 the Office of the President (UCOP) renewed a commitment to environmental sustainability by mandating that the 10 state universities and five medical centers in its system participate in a program to help achieve zero-waste by 2020. Its first Sustainable Practices Policy ( was created in 2003 and has been updated over the years to include waste reduction and diversion, among other sustainability practices. Even before mandates, the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), was a forerunner in developing sustainability programs with recycling dating back to the early 1990s. One of its stated goals in response to UCOP’s policy is to “identify and pursue opportunities for operational infrastructure improvements that will increase waste diversion.”

The policy set landfill diversion goals of 50 percent in 2008, 75 percent in 2012 and 95 percent by the year 2020.

Critical changes

To achieve these goals, one of the first acknowledgements was the need to change how UCSC charges for waste and recycling pickup. In 2011, a Landfill and Solid Waste Diversion Task Force was formed and charged with formulating a program to increase diversion from the landfill.

UCSC is a “self-haul” campus, and the grounds services department is responsible for managing 90 percent to 95 percent of the campus’ refuse and recycling service and overseeing the entire operation from bin to landfill.

As is typical for the refuse collection industry, the campus had fixed dumpster collection routes and frequencies that did not offer detailed data regarding weight or fill status on a location and customer basis. The department realized there was no reliable way to use this system to accurately measure waste streams and achieve its zero-waste goal.

Roger Edberg, senior superintendent of grounds services at UCSC, says, “The current collection structure and funding model were in conflict with the university’s long-term zero-waste goals. Our waste collection and billing system was ready for an overhaul, and we had to move to a weight-based system in order to move forward.”

A weight-based system would allow UCSC to better understand customer diversion rates, encourage composting and recycling through data feedback and enable upgrades to its customer billing system. The new billing system supports and incentivizes reduction and reuse, which are the core waste reduction strategies within every successful waste diversion program and are highlighted as priorities in UCSC zero-waste management.

The grounds services department evaluated several vendors that could deliver on-board scales for their refuse trucks, load management software for data collection, analysis and reporting and bin sensors for “on demand” pickups. One of the most important considerations was the ability for the vendor to provide automated, accurate, real-time weight data, allowing UCSC to create diversion reports and accurately bill each department on campus.

Smarten up

After evaluating vendors, UCSC selected Creative Microsystems Inc., Renton, Washington, for its LoadMan on-board truck scales and load management software (including GPS-based account proximity detection) and reporting. Subsequently, the university added San Francisco-based Compology’s sensor technology to create “smart dumpsters” and to provide regular bin volume values for demand-based truck route creation in campus operation.

The account-proximity-detection (also known as georouting) feature of the LoadMan package was especially attractive in combination with the Compology technology, as it would allow UCSC to build on-demand, variable collection routes, determined by full bins triggered by alerts from the “smart dumpster” bin volume sensors.

“When discussing goals with UCSC, we realized our proximity-account-detection capabilities would be a valuable component to their overall solution,” says Alan Housley, vice president of marketing at LoadMan. “Imagine the power of turning the refuse truck into a virtual ‘customer bin detector,’ creating a more streamlined system that requires very little driver intervention.”

When a truck drives within 500 feet (default) of any customer bin, the customer’s account will show up on the in-cab touch-screen on-board computer (OBC). If only one bin is detected, the hardware and software automatically recognize the account and assign the refuse load weight record to that one detected customer. If several bins are detected within the 500-foot proximity range (such as at certain dense areas on campus), then the driver chooses the correct customer from the OBC touch-screen display, and the load weight record is then assigned to the appropriate customer.

UCSC started with a pilot program on one campus front-loader collection truck in September 2012. The initial results were very promising and allowed the team to get approval to service the entire campus. “The administration loves real data, and we were able to present them with actual weight data per building per customer and even for each cart serviced, which led to approval of the program campuswide,” Edberg says. “We could not have achieved this without implementing a weight-based system and showing them the numbers.”

Accurate data and real-time reporting for each facility on campus were not only key in getting approval for the program but are essential for the new UCSC budget recharge system. UCSC now charges a set fee per pound, regardless of the waste or recyclable commodity collected. And since each department head is responsible for his or her contribution to the 2020 zero-waste goal, he or she is already motivated to source-separate the waste, clean paper, recyclable containers and compostable materials.

For example

The campus’ main library is a prime example of integrating zero-waste efforts and data collection on campus. The library houses a greatly used café and several departmental offices. All material streams, including paper, containers, compostables, cardboard and refuse leaving the library are weighed. The facility had a baseline of 37 percent diversion in late 2014. When measured again in January 2015, after implementing new collection bins and practices, the diversion rate increased to 79 percent. The weight data collected before and during the implementation gave important validation to the upgrades and highlighted potential areas for improvement.

“If we use the same model across the campus, we could see diversion rates double, bringing our campus much closer to zero-waste diversion rates, which is very exciting,” says Dr. Bradley Angell with the grounds services department at UCSC.

Angell’s recent studies have focused on GHG emissions related to traditional hauling activities. He calculates that by simply diverting all food waste and organic materials from the refuse stream, the UCSC campus could reduce annual GHG emissions by 441 tons. If this metric were applied to the average landfilled waste produced per day per person in the U.S., by diverting and composting the organic material out of the refuse stream, 23 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent release could be avoided each year.

The automated system with on-board scales, account proximity detection and bin volume sensors makes it possible for the grounds services team to create efficiencies and save resources. Based on current average collection reductions for fiscal year 2014-2015, the campus has reduced four pickups per month for eight months of the year on 75 dumpsters (approximately 2,400 pickups, or a savings of more than $43,000). For fiscal year 2015-2016, UCSC says it expects to reduce the same number of pickups per month over the same period, but the number of instrumented dumpsters will increase to more than 220, saving roughly 7,000 pickups and potentially $130,000 in operational costs. Given these efficiencies, UCSC grounds services says it expects to remain cost neutral through 2020, even while rolling out the program to the entire campus.

The next step

The pilot LoadMan evaluation program ran for one year on one truck in 2012, and the university has now upgraded three front-loader trucks and one cart-tipper truck to LoadMan on-board scales connected to a touch-screen OBC (LM400) that is popular with drivers.

The campus’ smart dumpster bin-volume sensors were placed on 75 bins to start, and UCSC is currently expanding to 222 bins (a campuswide adoption) by the fall of 2015. The official launch of the weight-based billing system at UCSC began in July 2015.

The next big step for UCSC is the deployment of universal zero-waste stations for both indoor and outdoor use with planned expansion of one-quarter of the campus per year. Once the campus is collecting more than 50 tons of postconsumer organics per year in addition to the current 700 tons per year of kitchen food scraps the university collects, a new on-campus in-vessel aerobic composting facility will need to be installed to process the added compostable packaging, paper towels and other compostable materials collected using the zero-waste stations. This is a critical path in achieving its 95 percent diversion goal and will allow campus operators to manage all kitchen, postconsumer and manufactured organics on-site. Currently under schematic design is an on-campus, 3-acre, fully integrated resource recovery facility that can provide an area to process and stage recycling, composting, full organics management and a construction and demolition debris sorting area for high diversion attainment.


Alan Housley is vice president of LoadMan On-Board Scales and can be reached at Bradley Angell, Ph.D., is with the University of California, Santa Cruz, ground services department. He can be reached at More information on Creative Microsystems and Loadman is available at