Correctional Facilities

The highest priority of any correctional facility is to provide a secure and safe living environment for inmates; effective waste and recycling services often take a back seat to safety and security concerns. However, as correctional facilities are large generators of waste, waste management service costs are often one of their top operating expenses. This webpage provides an overview to help correctional facility decision makers develop an effective waste and recycling program.

Correctional facilities dispose of significant amounts of materials that could be reduced, reused, and recycled. There are many benefits to waste diversion at federal, state, or local correctional facilities, including meeting legislative requirements, reducing waste collection and disposal costs, generating revenue from recovered materials, and reducing purchasing costs for material and supplies. Other benefits include the opportunity for inmate labor and training, good publicity, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and conservation of natural resources.

Understanding the Waste Management Hierarchy

When managing waste materials, the preferred order of management is to reduce, reuse, recycle/compost, and dispose in an environmentally safe manner in a landfill. The United States Environmental Protection Agency developed the non-hazardous materials and waste management hierarchy, which ranks the various management strategies from most to least environmentally preferred. The hierarchy places emphasis on reducing, reusing, and recycling as key to sustainable materials management. Here are tips on how to recycle items by material type.

Understanding Laws and Regulations that pertain to State Correctional Facilities

Correctional institutions under the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) are required to comply with a variety of State laws to reduce and recycle their waste, and to support development of markets for recycled content products. See State Agency Laws and Regulations for more information. Contact your CalRecycle Local Assistance and Market Development representative for assistance.

Key Players

One of the main components to starting or expanding a waste reduction and recycling program is to bring together key players at institutions and headquarters who can contribute to the development or expansion of sustainable waste management programs:

A successful correctional facility waste management program requires all key players to do their part—no one person, or department within a facility, can operate a successful program without the support of others. Wardens and assistant wardens must communicate priorities while business services staff members coordinate service needs, budgets, and contracts, and maintenance and operations staff handle materials and oversee day-to-day recycling efforts. In addition, kitchen managers must educate kitchen staff on using the proper bins and moving food waste materials from the kitchens to outside bins, where the organic materials are picked up by the service provider. Also important are relationships with local jurisdiction recycling coordinators and hauling company representatives who can help the correctional facility with local materials management solutions, bin placement, signage, and possibly waste audits to determine the amount and types of materials generated. Regular communication and coordination between all key players is crucial to a successful correctional facility recycling program.

Departmental Waste Reduction Policies and Procedures

Most correctional facilities are part of a larger department and are required to follow departmental operating procedures. Adopting department-wide policies and procedures to support waste reduction and recycling is critical to effective waste reduction programs at correctional institutions. Departmental policies and procedures provide direction to individual facilities on mandates to divert waste from landfills, responsibilities of each facility and the department, and guidelines to procure service contracts. Without top-down direction and support, individual efforts at employing effective recycling programs at the institutional level is likely to be lost to competing priorities over time.

Waste Management Service Contracts

As large generators of a significant volume of materials, correctional facilities have the ability to structure service contracts that help achieve their waste reduction goals. Waste and recycling service contracts should include language that clearly states the need for services that will maximize recycling and minimize landfill disposal. Here are some steps to consider:

    • Use the contract process to solicit suggestions and solutions for minimizing waste and increasing recycling.
    • Set minimum diversion requirements as a condition of the contract.
    • Include revenue-sharing from recyclables in the contract.
    • Require diversion reporting as part of the contract.
    • Contract with a single service provider for integrated waste management services that include recycling, organics recycling, and trash services.

For more information on contracts, see the following links:

Waste Generation and Composition at Correctional Facilities

Estimated Composition of Waste Generated at Correctional Facilities

Understanding the types and amounts of waste materials generated at a correctional facility is an important first step to developing an effective waste management program. There have been few waste characterization studies on correctional institutions. One of the most quotable studies was completed in the early 2000s by the State of Florida. Subsequent studies, although not as thorough, have consistently shown the largest waste material types generated are paper materials (40%) and food waste (~30%). For example, CalRecycle’s 2014 waste characterization study sampled several correctional facilities; the data was reported as part of the Public Administration category results. Individual samples of the correctional facilities on those particular sort days were consistent with the waste characterization depicted above: Paper and food waste were the largest waste material types for the correctional facilities sampled.

A facility waste audit will provide the most accurate account of the waste stream. Such an audit identifies the amounts and types of recyclable materials and waste a facility generates. Guides to performing waste audits are readily available on the web. The guide offered by the Natural Resources Defense Council is typical and concise.

Food Waste at Correctional Facilities

Food waste generation at correctional facilities has been estimated to be between 0.5 pounds per inmate per day to upward of 1.2 pounds per inmate per day, depending on the type of correctional facility and the type of feeding program.1 A facility housing 4,000 inmates can generate more than a ton of food waste per day. With such a large amount of food waste, correctional facilities have the opportunity to explore food recovery programs, as well as onsite food waste composting programs. Composting organic materials on-site saves in hauling and tipping fees and provides two other important benefits: Use of the nutrient-rich compost on prison grounds and gardens, and a valuable job training opportunity for inmates (see the case studies below). CalRecycle’s Food Scraps Management resources provides an overview of options for large institutional generators of food waste.

Spread the Word

Publicize your waste prevention efforts. Success stories provide excellent opportunities to generate positive publicity for your department and individual facilities. CalRecycle’s Office of Public Affairs can help create promotional materials such as brochures, articles, and social media announcements.

Case Studies


1 August 2013 BioCycle Article on Washington State Department of Corrections quotes 1-1.5 pounds per inmate per day food waste generation. Massachusetts Guide to Estimating Food Waste Generation, 2014 quotes 1.0 pounds per inmate per day for Correctional facilities. Florida Waste Reduction in Correctional Facilities, March 2004 quotes 1.2 pounds per person per day, or 30% of correctional facility waste stream.

For more information contact: Recycling Coordinator,, or Buy Recycled Campaign,