Garbage disposal on dairies is an issue that doesn’t usually receive much attention, having sometimes unseen negative impacts on business productivity and image.

Garbage management procedures are sometimes obvious, but other times they go beyond most employees’ knowledge or worries; let’s discuss those problems and outline solutions to deal with them.

Aesthetics is the first perceived problem by everybody, and it really is a problem. Dairies whose garbage is spread everywhere give the impression that nobody cares about anything in the workplace. For visitors and state or federal inspectors, deficient housekeeping could be a sign of a careless crew and improper dairy management that could be present in other areas like milk safety, cow welfare, worker protection and environmental responsibility. At the same time, dairy employees have the feeling management doesn’t care about them. The bad practice of dumping garbage anywhere spreads very fast because, in the short term, it is easier to litter than to organize and clean.

Personnel safety becomes a concern especially when no procedure is established to dispose of potential hazardous wastes like needles, medicine and pesticide containers, calving and veterinary cow treatment materials and dead calves or cows. Other less obvious materials can also become a risk for workers. Broken glass containers, metal cans and strings or even parts of broken tools are sharp objects that can cause injuries. Remains of food and other organic garbage can become a source of diseases, bad odors and insects.

Bad general housekeeping in a workplace is usually reflected in the restrooms and refreshment or lunch areas, increasing the risk of disease transmission and decreasing the morale of workers. Deficient housekeeping practices in mechanic shops and storage areas increase safety problems by increasing slippery surfaces and harmful objects in walkways. Chemical or biological hazards also increase because workers cannot distinguish between useful and waste containers and chemicals, and fire risk is highly increased.


Cow safety is jeopardized by the presence of garbage. Soda cans, metal pieces, gloves, strings, plastic bags or containers can be eaten by cows, thus causing hardware disease and leading to illness or animal deaths. Organic garbage could be a source of insects and rodents that could be difficult to control if they spread and hide all around the dairy.

Garbage like gloves, soda cans, food wraps, plastic containers, bottle caps, cloth towels and other nonbiodegradable materials can end up in the waste disposal systems and generate several problems. Pipe blockages, broken pumps and increased screen cleaning are some of the problems seen on farms.

In addition, the problem goes beyond the farm limits when some of those waste materials reach the fields fertilized with manure and are harvested with crops intended for human consumption, thus entering the food processing system and generating safety issues and severe complaints from consumers and food processors.

A dairy’s neighbors can also suffer from problems related to garbage, receiving flying objects when the wind blows. Gloves, food wraps, cow feed supplement paper bags and plastics are some of the “decorative objects” that neighbors can receive in their yards, generating complaints and unnecessary discomfort and projecting a negative image in the neighborhood.

Managing garbage on the dairy
The first step is to recognize garbage as a problem that needs to be solved so that some effort, time and resources are expended to manage it in a proper way. Some basic concepts and procedures to implement include:

•Train all employees on proper housekeeping habits and reinforce those concepts constantly. All employees must follow the company procedures for garbage disposal, and managers and supervisors must remind their co-workers, as well as external service providers, about the rules. Garbage disposal areas, as well as procedures and signs, should be posted in both English and Spanish.

•Provide several garbage cans throughout the dairy. Garbage cans should be accessible to workders but not to cows.

•Signs indicating the position of cans or other garbage disposal containers and type of material acceptable for the container must be available at each location. In addition, signs encouraging the proper disposal and proper housekeeping practices help in maintaining positive attitudes. Examples are simple signs in the refreshment or kitchen areas such as “Clean the area after using it.” Courtesy between employees in areas like restrooms, the kitchen, storage places, changing rooms, etc. must be constantly encouraged.

•Some workers’ cultural habits need special attention. Constant repetition of the “new norms” is required. For example, some people dispose of toilet paper in garbage cans instead of flushing it into the sewage system. Those habits must be changed through education, patience and persistence because habits passed down from generation to generation are hard to change.

The same thing applies to garbage that is perceived not to be harmful like bottle caps, candy wraps, chewing gum and the rest of the never-ending list of things that people dump on the floor. It is recommended to talk about those issues with employees and post signs reminding them those habits are not appropriate.

•Syringes, needles, blood vacutainers, medicine bottles and other veterinary wastes should always be disposed in containers for sharp objects and treated as hazardous materials. Workers who use those materials must receive special training.

•Adopt a policy of "no garbage outside of cans." Encourage good housekeeping practices and collaboration by all employees to maintain a clean work area. "If some garbage is on the floor, pick it up and put it inside the garbage can" must become a daily practice for everybody.

•Large dairies (and small ones too) can implement a garbage separation program toward a recycling system. Separating soda cans, metals, papers, degradable organic wastes and plastics is a good way to increase employee consciousness. Those practices will be viewed by neighbors and the community as a sign of good environmental stewardship. Local recycling companies can help the dairy to implement those kinds of programs.

Maintaining a clean and safe workplace is very important. Ensuring that a proper garbage disposal system is implemented and properly working minimizes costs and optimizes workers’ comfort and safety. PD

Dr. Mireille Chahine, Extension Dairy Specialist; Mario de Haro Marti, Research Assistant, University of Idaho, Twin Falls R & E Center