Collecting Samples

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Most protocols, including ASTM D 5231, state that each selected truck should be directed to discharge its load in an area designated for sample collection. This provision is convenient for samplers but is not necessary if a quick and simple sampling method is used. ASTM D 5231 states that the surface on which the selected load is discharged should be clean, but in most studies preventing a sample from containing a few ounces of material from a different load of waste is unnecessary.

Understanding the issues involved in selecting a sampling method requires an appreciation of the nature of a load of MSW discharged from a standard compactor truck onto the surface of a landfill or a paved tipping floor. Rather than collapsing into a loose pile, the waste tends to retain the shape it had in the truck. The discharged load can be 7 or 8 ft high. In many loads, the trash bags are pressed together so tightly that pulling material for the sample out of the load is difficult. Some waste usually falls off the top or sides of the load, but this loose waste should not be used as the sample because it can have unrepresentative characteristics.

In general, one sample should be randomly selected from each selected truck, as specified in ASTM D 5231. If more than one sample must be taken from one load, the samples should be collected from different parts of the load.

A threshold question is the size of the sample collected from each truck. Various sample sizes have been used, ranging from 50 lb to the entire load. Large samples have the following advantages:

The variation (standard deviation) between samples is smaller, so fewer samples are required to achieve a given level of precision. The distribution of the results of sorting the samples is closer to a normal distribution (bell-shaped curve). The boundary area between the sample and the remainder of the load is smaller in proportion to the volume of the sample, making the sampler's decisions on whether to include bulky items from the boundary area less significant.

Small samples have a single advantage: shorter collection and sorting time.

A consensus has developed (SCS Engineers 1979; Klee and Carruth 1970; Britton 1971) that the optimum sample size is 200 to 300 lb (91 to 136 kg). This size range is recommended in ASTM D 5231. The advantages of increasing the sample size beyond this range do not outweigh the reduced number of samples that can be sorted. If the sample size is less than 200 lb, the boundary area around the sample is too large compared to the volume of the sample, and the sampler must make too many decisions about whether to include boundary items in the sample.

Environmental engineers use several general procedures to obtain samples of 200 to 300 lb from loads of MSW, including the following:

Assembling a composite sample from material taken from predetermined points in the load (such as each corner and the middle of each side) Coning and quartering

Collecting a grab sample from a randomly selected point using a front-end loader Manually collecting a column of waste from a randomly selected location

Numerous variations and combinations of these general procedures can also be used.

The primary disadvantage of composite samples is the same as that for small samples: the large boundary area forces the sampler to make too many decisions about whether to include items of waste in the sample. A composite sample tends to be a judgement sample rather than a random sample. A secondary disadvantage of composite samples is that they take longer to collect than grab samples or column samples.

A variation of composite sampling is to assemble each sample from material from different loads of waste. This approach has the same disadvantages as composite sampling from a single load of waste and is even more time-consuming.

In coning and quartering, samplers mix a large quantity of waste to make its characteristics more uniform, arrange the mixed waste in a round pile (coning), and randomly select a portion—typically one quarter—of the mixed waste (quartering). The purpose is to combine the statistical advantages of large samples with the reduced sorting time of smaller samples. The coning and quartering process can begin with the entire load of waste or with a portion of the load and can be performed once or multiple times to obtain a single sample. ASTM D 5231 specifies one round of coning and quartering, beginning with approximately 1000 lb of waste, to obtain a sample of 200 to 300 lb.

Coning and quartering has the following disadvantages and potential difficulties compared to grab sampling or column sampling:

Substantially increases sampling time Requires more space

Requires the use of a front-end loader for relatively long periods. Many solid waste facilities can make a frontend loader and an operator available for brief periods, but some cannot provide a front-end loader for the longer periods required for coning and quartering. Tends to break trash bags, making the waste more difficult to handle

Increases sorting time by breaking up clusters of a category of waste

Reduces accuracy of sorting by increasing the percentage of food waste adhering to or absorbed into other waste items

Promotes loss of moisture from the sample Promotes stratification of the waste by density and particle size. The biasing potential of stratification is minimized if the quarter used as the sample is a true pie slice, with its sides vertical and its point at the center of the cone. This shape is difficult to achieve in practice.

The advantage of coning and quartering is that it reduces the variation (the standard deviation) among the samples, thereby reducing the number of samples that must be sorted. Coning and quartering is justified if it reduces the standard deviation enough to make up for the disadvantages and potential difficulties. If coning and quartering is done perfectly and completely, sorting the final sample is equivalent to sorting the entire cone of waste, and the standard deviation is significantly reduced. Since the number of samples that must be sorted to achieve a given level of precision is proportional to the square of the standard deviation, coning and quartering can substantially reduce the required number of samples. Note, however, that the more thoroughly coning and quartering is performed, the more pronounced are each of the disadvantages and potential difficulties associated with this method.

A more common method of solid waste sampling is collecting a grab sample using a front-end loader. This method is relatively quick and can often be done by facility personnel without unduly disrupting normal facility operations. Sampling by front-end loader reduces the potential impact of the personal biases associated with manual sampling methods but introduces the potential for other types of bias, including the following:

Like shovel sampling, front-end loader sampling tends to favor small and dense objects over large and light objects. Large and light objects tend to be pushed away or to fall away as the front-end loader bucket is inserted, lifted, or withdrawn.

On the other hand, the breaking of trash bags as the frontend loader bucket penetrates the load of waste tends to release dense, fine material from the bags, reducing the representation of this material in the sample. Front-end loader samples taken at ground level favor waste that falls off the top and sides of the load, which may not have the same characteristics as waste that stays in place. On dirt surfaces, front-end loader samples taken at ground level can be contaminated with dirt.

The impact of these biasing factors can be reduced if the sampling is done carefully and the sampling personnel correct clear sources of bias, such as bulky objects falling off the bucket as it is lifted.

In front-end loader sampling, sampling personnel can use different sampling points for different loads to ensure that the various horizontal and vertical strata of the loads are represented in the samples. They can vary the sampling point either randomly or in a repeating pattern. The extent of the bias that could result from using the same sampling point for each load is not known.

An inherent disadvantage of front-end loader sampling is the difficulty in estimating the weight of the samples. Weight can only be estimated based on volume, and samples of equal volume have different weights.

A less common method of solid waste sampling is manually collecting a narrow column of waste from a randomly selected location on the surface of the load, extending from the bottom to the top of the load. This method has the following advantages:

• No heavy equipment is required.

• Sampling time is relatively short.

• Because different horizontal strata of the load are sampled, the samples more broadly represent the load than grab samples collected using a front-end loader. Note, however, that loads are also stratified from front to back, and column samples do not represent different vertical strata.

• The narrowness of the target area within the load minimizes the discretion of the sampler in choosing waste to include in the sample.

The major disadvantage of column sampling is that manual extraction of waste from the side of a well-compacted load is difficult, and the risk of cuts and puncture wounds from pulling on the waste is substantial.

Of the many hybrid sampling procedures that combine features of these four general procedures, two are worthy of particular note. First, in the sampling procedure specified in ASTM D 5231, a front-end loader removes at least 1000 lb (454 kg) of material along one entire side of the load; and this waste is mixed, coned, and quartered to yield a sample of 200 to 300 lb (91 to 136 kg). Compared to grab sampling using a front-end loader, the ASTM method has the advantage of generating samples more broadly representative of the load but has the disadvantage of increasing sampling time.

In a second hybrid sampling procedure, a front-end loader loosens a small quantity of waste from a randomly selected point or column on the load, and the sample is collected manually from the loosened waste. This method is safer than manual column sampling and provides more control over the weight of the sample than sampling by front-end loader. This method largely avoids the potential biases of front-end loader sampling but tends to introduce the personal biases of the sampler.

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