Today at Berkeley Lab

Erin Claybaugh’s on a Mission to Improve Lab’s Waste Disposal


Sustainability Program Manager Erin Claybaugh knows a lot about where your trash goes. She leads the initiative to divert 75 percent of the Lab’s solid waste output to meet UC and Federal mandates. Right now, we’re hovering between 50 and 60 percent. Claybaugh has a few ideas about how we can do better.

Claybaugh holds a master’s degree in environmental science and management, with a focus in corporate environmental management. She describes her focus as “all about balancing the environmental impact, the social impact, and the economic impact.” Claybaugh first started at the Berkeley Lab with EETD back in 2008, working in Washington, D.C. on the “Green the Capitol” initiative. She returned to the Bay Area in 2011 to work in EETD’s Energy Efficiency Standards group and then joined Chief Sustainability Officer John Elliot’s team in 2012.

“With all of the good research on climate change and energy solutions that’s coming out of this institution, it’s really important for us to lead by example,” she says. “There’s always room for improvement.”

A big component of that improvement effort is the Lab’s new waste stations and the corresponding educational efforts underway to increase our composting and recycling. The new color-coded, multi-bin waste stations and their corresponding signage form the basis of the program, Rethink Waste, that informs employees about how to sort their trash. Rethink Waste has been implemented in 80 percent of the Lab’s buildings, with some buildings showing up to 72 percent waste diversion. Much of what remains is outfitting all of the buildings with Rethink Waste and then focusing on laboratories, which have much trickier waste disposal needs.

Installing the bins and the signage is just part of the program. The biggest challenge is the education component, says Claybaugh. Fortunately, it’s the aspect of her job that she enjoys the most. “Some people are more motivated than others, but regardless of attitude, I really enjoy talking to people at the Lab about sustainability,” she says.

Procurement is yet another piece of the puzzle, and it’s also intricately woven into Claybaugh’s work. “Through procurement, we can address other issues, such as buying higher recycled-content paper,” she says. “It’s a really key component to closing the loop because the more we recycle, the more we contribute to the recycled-content products. Then the quality of the product increases and price decreases.”

The more we recycle, the more useful our waste stream is to our waste hauler, Republic Services, who get our waste back into the supply chain. “The better we are at sorting our waste, the higher value that waste stream is,” explains Claybaugh. “If we give them clean paper recycling, it can go right back into the paper supply chain to produce recycled-content paper.”

“The key motivator for us is really climate change,” Claybaugh says. “I believe every institution has the responsibility to do their part.”


How to Do Your Part

We’ve all seen the new bins and the catchy signage that goes along with them. The first step, if you haven’t already, is simply to read the instructions so that you understand what can go where.

Then it’s really a matter of thinking about what you’re disposing—do you have a to-go coffee cup with a plastic top that has a recycling symbol? Separate the cup and the lid, and put the cup in the green “compost” bin. Put the lid in the blue “other recycling” bin, but be sure to check that lid; some coffee shops use compostable lids these days, which say “compostable” on them.

A Quick Guide to Sorting Waste

• Put food scraps, food-soiled paper, and compostable containers in the green COMPOST bin. We also compost the paper towels from the restrooms.
• Put clean paper, including copy paper and newspaper, in the blue PAPER bin.
• Put glass, metal, and all rigid plastic bottles, cans, and other containers in the blue OTHER RECYCLABLES bin.
• Put all other non-recyclable and non-compostable items (such as chip bags, candy wrappers, latex gloves, and styrofoam) in the black LANDFILL bin.

Additionally, with Rethink Waste, we’re also addressing the entire system of handling Berkeley Lab’s waste, including hauling efficiency and custodian health and safety. Workspace bins are emptied weekly, so don’t leave any food or food waste in your office/desk bins. Instead, drop these materials off in the waste station COMPOST bin when you take a break or leave for the day. Find more information on the Rethink Waste website.

Have a question or comment about the system? Get in touch with Sustainable Berkeley Lab.