Addressing the lack of information in the waste industry

The most comprehensive report on food loss in the United States was issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1997 and includes information only about retailers and consumers. That report explicitly cites the need for more data, yet almost 15 years later, not much more is available.” – Gunders, Natural Resource Defense Council

Estimating food waste is exceptionally challenging for industry professionals. And like I said in my earlier post, you can’t make informed decisions about how to curb waste if you don’t have a good representation of where it’s coming from. The same is true for solid waste, which is where I begin to think how I can impact the quantity of data out there.

My last job taught me the power of questionnaires and how to properly design a survey while minimizing bias and variability. Also, I’ve always had a love affair with surveys. At Northeastern, I was the student conducting surveys in the student center for my classes, handing out little candy incentives to people if they participated. I think it’s a great way to collect data, and to make informed decisions. Most decision-makers love having data at their finger-tips.

Lately, I’ve been racking my brain for an independent research project that would display my analytical talent to potential employers. I think that designing a survey could be very helpful, especially to the Watertown Public Works Department, who hopes one day that they can reduce their residents’ trash output. I already proposed one idea I have of creating a web page where we can post live updates on the functional items that people drop off at the recycling center, so that other residents can view what’s available from home and choose to come pick something up that they might like. So far working there one day, I’ve seen working TVs, vacuum cleaners, microwaves, toasters, whole vinyl record collections, and plenty of cans/bottles that could be returned for their deposit money. I think this is the definition of recycling and reusing.

As for my survey idea, I look forward to speaking to Watertown Public Works to see where they lack information, and get their input on questions to ask residents. Hopefully, this will further their understanding of the town’s waste habits.


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