A neat row of recycling, trash, and compost bins along a sidewalk.
City waste inspectors will hit the streets Nov. 6-17. Credit: Florence Middleton

Notice someone in a neon safety vest rummaging through your waste bins this week or the next?

It could be an auditor with the city of Oakland, conducting a required annual inspection of trash, compost, and recycling from Monday, Nov. 6, through Friday, Nov. 17.

Per a recent state law, SB 1383, the city is sending inspectors out on trash days to evaluate bins for misplaced items. Depending on your performance, they’ll either leave an “Oops!” tag with information about what went wrong, or a “Good job!” tag for proper sorting.

A random selection of 2% of Oakland bins will be subjected to inspection, meant to track how well the city is keeping unnecessary items out of the landfill or contaminating its compost, and to educate residents on how to improve their disposal.

‘When buried in landfills, compostable items such as food scraps, food soiled paper, and plant debris produce greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change,” the city said in an FAQ about the audit.

How has Oakland fared in the past? Last year’s inspection, the first annual audit, found that about 2% of audited recycling bins had “high contamination,” meaning more than half of the contents were ineligible for recycling, while 1% of compost bins were highly contaminated. Additionally, 8.5% of recycling bins and 3% of compost bins were contaminated at a lower level.

Evaluating trash bins, auditors found that 25% contained items that could have been recycled or composted.

Speaking with The Oaklandside this summer, Rebecca Parnes, recycling program specialist for the city, said plastic bags and plastic wrap were the most common contaminants found in recycling and compost bins. 

“Those are always trash, 100% of the time,” she said.

The audit will take place from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. on trash days. The bin evaluations will be conducted by Oakland contractors SCS Engineers and Civicorps, along with California Climate Action Corps fellows—in coordination with the city’s waste contractors Waste Management and California Waste Solutions. 

Inspectors will carry letters stating what they’re doing, in case residents want to confirm they are part of the city’s effort, Parnes said.

The annual audit is distinct from a separate occasional recycling-specific audit conducted by California Waste Solutions.

Information on how to sort your waste is available on the Oakland Recycles website and through StopWaste.

Natalie Orenstein covers housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously on staff at Berkeleyside, where her extensive reporting on the legacy of school desegregation received recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal and the Education Writers Association. Natalie’s reporting has also appeared in The J Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, and she’s written about public policy for a number of research institutes and think tanks. Natalie lives in Oakland, grew up in Berkeley, and has only left her beloved East Bay once, to attend Pomona College.