On A Dumpster Dive with Our SVP of Facility Solutions

Erik Makinson

Ecova’s waste audit team is comprised of a few individuals who, in the words of television host Mike Rowe, “aren’t afraid to get dirty.” So you probably wouldn’t expect to find one of the company’s executives donning rubber gloves and a hard hat to sort through trash. However, Bob Zak, Ecova’s senior vice president of Facility Solutions, is also not afraid to get dirty. Last month he joined our waste audit team on an exploratory mission at one of our hospitality client’s properties to better understand their waste story.


“Understanding the waste story” is really just a nice way to say dumpster diving. To most, spending hours of your day digging through a huge pile of garbage might seem like a punishment. However, for Zak, this was an opportunity to get in on the literal ground level of understanding one company’s waste stream.

“It was like being on an expedition that was part archeological dig, part treasure hunt,” says Zak. “The crew was very structured in their process; organized with bins and clipboards to collect, separate and log the materials they gathered from the garbage.”

Sorting trash is the first step for organizations to understand what they are throwing away. This four to six-hour process serves as a “detailed data capture” opportunity. From here, Ecova can deduce what materials the company is tossing away, which of those could be diverted from landfills, or most importantly, prevented from entering the waste stream in the first place.

Stepping into a Las Vegas transfer station, Zak braced himself for overwhelming smell and heat, but instead found a surprisingly clean and organized building. “The building was impeccably clean. It reminded me more of stepping into a manufacturing plant, which was not what I was expecting at the dump.”


Zak and the attending client guests were given every opportunity to engage in the process. Ecova’s crew lead, Kristin Kinder, provided a briefing on the strategy and assigned projects. Once the team was armed with gloves, protective eyewear and hard hats, the real fun began. “As we started to sort out the garbage we were instructed to ‘over-separate’ materials by Kristin, who explained that information can always be combined later on, but this is our one shot to gather as much data as possible,” explains Zak.

Like detectives scouring a crime scene for clues, waste auditors are able to deduce what ends up in the dumpster and why. Trash is often sorted into a dozen or more categories, depending on the client. The team will walk through a client’s site ahead of time to observe the daily activities and which waste types are generated. Common categories include:

  • Paper
  • Plastics
  • Aluminum
  • Steel
  • Glass
  • Food

If the client wants visibility into their own unique waste stream, Ecova can customize that as well. In the past we’ve created categories for wood waste, EPS (Styrofoam) and even lemon peels!

“What impacted me the most about this audit was that this particular client has a very established, impactful waste program. But getting into the garbage highlighted even more opportunity out there for savings and waste diversion,” noted Zak.

Inviting clients to attend their own company’s waste audits is a unique feature of Ecova’s waste offering, and serves as a highly valuable educational tool. Telling the results through a report is one thing, but having first-hand interaction with the garbage provides a deeper level of understanding.

Zak’s advice? “Don’t be afraid to dig into your garbage to understand what your company is really contributing to landfills. Even if you have a process or program in place, mistakes happen and you may discover opportunities for better employee training.” Don’t want to get dirty? Invite Ecova to do it for you. You may even have an executive appearance.

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