Notes from the Road: Waste Auditing Is Not a Crime

Recyclable metals sorted from trash
Recyclable metals sorted from trash

Written by: Rob Pudner, Recycling Educator

When I was a kid I remember seeing shirts and stickers with the phrase, “Skateboarding is not a crime.” I wasn’t a skateboarder and I had relatively few run-ins with authority, but on Friday I couldn’t help but think about the rebels of my youth as I jokingly commented to my co-auditor, “Waste auditing is not a crime!”

Last week I partnered with the City of Missoula and their Energy Corps service member, Caroline, to find out what City Hall was banishing to the landfill. We laid a tarp on the grass outside which allowed us to empty trash bags without making a mess on the ground. I mounted my camera on a tripod to record the action while we moved waste around with pickers and gloved hands, like pieces on a chess board. After roughly 45 minutes of sorting, a police car parked next to us and an officer quickly steps out of the vehicle to address us. “We received a call about suspicious bags,” he explained.

The officer could see that we were conducting official business, but was obligated to follow up with the call. A second officer walked by and, laughing quietly to herself, also mentioned the call about our bags. It was an odd scene, I’m sure, but it’s a relief to know that we may continue to perform waste audits with the approval of local law enforcement.