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  • Margie Suozzo

Waste Reduction Is Happening At The Terraces

Updated: Feb 6, 2023


Since May 2022, GreenTown has had the pleasure of working with a few representatives from The Terraces at Los Altos (TLA) Recycling Committee. They were interested in increasing recycling and composting and sought GreenTown’s assistance. Let’s set the stage as to why this is important.

Americans consume resources at an enormous rate. If all people in the world consumed at the rate that Americans consumed we would need five planets to supply them with appropriate resources. Five planets!!! Clearly that’s not sustainable!

To address this problem, we need to rethink our consumption patterns: whether we have to buy something to begin with; if we do, is it recyclable; can we repair or reuse things that we have; and then, and only then how do we recycle and/or compost what we must throw “away.”

GreenTown has some history working on waste reduction. In 2008, we developed a white paper that looked at the best recycling and composting programs in the region and what Los Altos could do differently to increase recycling and composting. We developed a series of recommendations - both high level and detailed - shared them with the Environmental Commission and City Council to inform the development of a request for proposals for a new waste contract franchise agreement. The City fully adopted our recommendations and, when Mission Trail was selected, almost immediately they were able to increase waste diverted from the landfill, through recycling and composting, by more than 30%! In addition to this work, we have held countless talks and workshops and have written numerous articles to help educate residents on how to increase recycling and composting.

Our work at TLA began with a waste audit, conducted by Mission Trail Waste Systems. This was followed by an on-site audit by GreenTown, as well as a series of recommendations. Some of those recommendations have been carried out, others are in progress. This documents some of our progress to date.


GreenTown, working with Mission Trail, estimated waste generated at TLA and what percentage was recycled and composted. Here are the initial findings. It’s important to note that these do not include landscaping waste, which is collected by a separate contractor:

  • Approximately 450 tons of waste is collected by MTWS annually.

  • 58.4% is landfilled and the other 41.6% is diverted from the landfill.

  • Typically 75% or more waste can be diverted through recycling and composting.

Percentage Waste Collected by Mission Trail Waste System

Source: Tim Giacomini, Mission Trail Waste System (MTWS), June 2022

Additionally, an estimated 16.8 tons of landscape waste is collected annually by Brightview Landscaping (pers. comm. landscape contractors on site, to be verified), which slightly shifts total waste percentages to: 56.3% landfilled and 43.7% diverted, 33.4% from recyclables and 10.3% from compostables.

In addition, Mission Trail conducted a one-day waste audit at TLA in June 2022. This audit led to a series of recommendations for TLA to consider, including:

  • Building out three-bin systems throughout the facility (blue for recycling; green for organics/food waste; and black for trash) with more receptacles and better signage that mirrors that on the outside of the facility.

  • Halting the use of black bags for anything other than trash as they are automatically directed to the landfill. Recommend using clear or light-colored bags instead.

  • Training and monitoring staff to ensure best practices and providing continuing education.

MTWS also noted that these actions will increase recycling and composting, reduce trash bins, and save TLA money.


GreenTown and the TLA Recycling Committee members met in July 2022 for a 2-hour walk-through of the facilities and held additional meetings in August 2022 with Dining and Facilities staff. Findings/recommendations include:

  • Separating food waste from the dining waste stream represents the greatest opportunity for diverting waste from the landfill. Currently this waste is considered trash. Additionally, this effort would save TLA money as a large Mission Trail waste collection bin could be replaced with an organics bin. Estimated savings are on the order of $300 per month. To support this effort, we recommended that a three-bin system be added to each prep station. Staffing issues have made implementing this recommendation challenging. The dining manager is supportive but until he has consistent staff, he is unable to effectively implement the recommendations. Status: currently, this high-impact measure is on hold.

  • Residential recycling and compost could be significantly increased. We recommended conducting a resident survey to better understand barriers to recycling and composting. In December 2022, with the TLA Recycling Committee, we implemented this survey with the following findings:

    • Fifty-two survey responses were received. All who responded to the question on whether they support the goal of increasing recycling and composting said YES.

    • Residents perceived the main challenges to more recycling and composting as:

      • Motivation

      • Staff training/education; and

      • Resident training/education.

    • Recycling: Most residents separate their recyclables, but more and better information is needed:

      • 68% felt informed about what can be recycled.

      • 32% could use more information, in particular regarding plastics recycling.

      • The types of materials typically recycled include: paper, glass bottles, aluminum cans, plastic bottles and containers, and clean tin foil.

    • Composting Organic Waste: The majority of respondents compost and most consider themselves well informed about what can be composted.

      • 63% of respondents always compost; and

      • 18% sometimes compost; and 18% never compost.

      • Materials typically composted are food waste and food-soiled paper and the most frequent location for composting is adjacent to Maple.

      • For those who don’t compost or sometimes don’t, key issues included questions about what actually can be composted and lack of containers for composting at the facility.

      • Four things were considered helpful to increase composting:

        • Education (29)

        • Better signage near collection bins (23 )

        • More bins in common areas (18); and

        • Having a compost container in each apartment (9)

    • Interest in joining the TLA Recycling Committee was significant!

  • Additionally, the administration can facilitate recycling and composting goals by implementing a three-bin systems throughout the facility, providing better signage, conducting staff training, and installing a large (3cy) organics bin for collecting dining food waste once the staffing situation improves.


One of the main residences, Redwood Lodge, does not have any facilities for organics collection that are within the building. Those that they had are considerably further away and outside, rendering composting difficult. GreenTown and the TLA Recycling Committee engaged the administration to put an organics collection bin alongside of a recycling bin in the Bistro, to make composting more convenient. This bin had good signage on it and a resident willing to collect the material each day and deposit it in an organics waste container! Results so far have been positive with more residents using the facility to dispose of their food waste and food-soiled paper. The current goal of this program is to move the responsibility of composting this waste to TLA staff.


  • Continue to monitor the staff situation for Dining to take advantage of an opportunity to re-introduce and implement our food waste collection proposal.

  • Provide resident education through hands-on activities and events to address barriers identified in the Resident survey.

  • Work with administration to sustainably maintain an organics collection bin in the Bistro and to build out more three-bin systems throughout the facility and offer improved signage.

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