Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Hamline University Waste Audit: Initial Insights

CGEE Student Voice
Campus Sustainability
Waste Diversion
by Jenni Abere

This weekend, students and faculty at Hamline conducted a comprehensive waste audit of the Anderson Center, the student center and main building on campus.

For three days, all waste produced in the building was weighed, sorted (trash, recycling, and compost), and then weighed again. We took note of where different bags of trash were produced in the building (for example, first floor versus second floor). This data will help us as we begin to implement organics composting in Anderson.

I was hoping that the waste audit would also help us demonstrate the need for composting. The future of this project was looking a little iffy, as we realized that since the majority of food waste in the building goes to pigs, the rest of compostable waste is mainly paper towels and napkins -- things that don't weigh much, so the financial savings and environmental impact from composting here may be minimal.

However, to me composting is an opportunity to switch from plastic disposables to compostable products. It's meaningless to have Catering and Dining Services start using compostable plates and cups if we don't have composting pickup.

Here are a few insights from the waste audit, based on my observations from three days. When the data gets processed, I'll have a follow-up post with some numbers.

1. Very little from Anderson recycling bins actually gets recycled.

This is for two reasons.

One, the recycling room is a floor below the loading dock, so it seems most bags from recycling bins get thrown directly into the dumpster, headed straight to the landfill. Many bags we opened from the trash dumpster were filled entirely with recyclable items -- it was easy to figure out what had happened.

Putting recycling and trash receptacles in the same room and making them both easily accessible to workers is an important first step to solve this problem.

Two, even the bags of recycling that end up in the right place are processed incorrectly. Yes, I did say "bags of recycling." The recycling often gets tied up tightly in a plastic garbage bag, so even if it's heading to the recycling plant, nothing in there will ever get recycled.

Hamline's new head chef stopped by while we were working on this bag. He told us that it looks
like scrapings from the dish room. If you don't scrape your plate into the correct bins, some one
else has to do it. And they don't have the time to sort correctly, so everything goes to waste.

Needless to say, this was hands-down the grossest bag I sorted in all three days.

2. Half-full beverages and liquids are a real problem.

Not only is it really gross (particularly that half-full carton of Eggnog that leaked all over my shoes) and disrespectful to sanitation workers to put liquids into the trash, it actually costs us money. Liquids are the heaviest thing in the trash, and we pay for throwing things away based on weight.

Another common problem was bags of ice from athletes -- that had become, naturally, bags of water. Heavy, expensive, and unnecessary.

The other issue was that a lot of these half-full cartons and bottles should have been in the recycling bin -- after being emptied at a sink, or even, finished by the people who paid for the drinks.

3. Composting constituted the most waste by weight. 

A lot of food waste was actually escaping the food waste bins, and the theory that lightweight paper wouldn't make a difference seems to be proven wrong. The paper is often wet, so that can make a big difference in weight.

We consistently found after sorting, that compostable waste constituted the largest chunk by weight.

4. Day-old food from Starbucks and the C-Store.

This was probably the most depressing thing to find: Nearly pristine muffins, cookies, and sandwiches from Starbucks. A lot of salads and sandwiches, still wrapped up.

From the C-Store, there were cans of soup that were possibly a day or two over -- but still, in cans. There were boxes upon boxes of Hostess treats that likewise, probably never expire. Also, inexplicably, a bottle of shampoo, still sealed.

Happy Holidays! from the garbage.
Still sealed: five sandwiches, two salads, and Eggnog. 

The food shelf I used to volunteer at in high school received boxes of day-old treats from a Starbucks. Good Samaritan laws mean that we can't be sued for donating food, which is a common myth. Looking into donating the food that is still good is the best option. If something is truly expired, or, like meat, possibly no longer safe, then composting can fill the gap.

5. Back-of-house recycling is not working.

There is clearly a problem with the workflow that is making it difficult for recycling to happen back-of-house in Anderson, both at Starbucks and the Bistro. We rescued countless milk cartons from the trash over the weekend. Several trash bags from Starbucks were filled mostly with cartons, but the presence of coffee grounds alerted us that this was not a misplaced recycling bag. This needs to be sorted out before we implement composting.

As the data gets processed, I will write a follow-up post with some of the numbers.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you did this work and for reporting it. Ah, what groundtruthing in detail so ofen tells us about real behavior. Have you/are you considering writing on this for the Oracle? I hope so.

    I have daily experience with recycling (volunteer) and I'm frustrated/disappointed by how much is put in "garbage" and how much is placed in the great bin and smaller bins. I do a fair amount of rinsing containers before I take them outside where they belong. It is such a short walk from opening packages and disposing of containers to the bins. Most of the time I keep myself "glop" free! And I also find stuff that is in the wrong place.

    Your entry reminded me of the Marlboro College Environmental Studies program. Marlboro has a strong commitment to being a sustainable campus. Their majors in ES (and others, too, I assume) have a chance to take a course during their program on how well the campus is doing. Here is the syllabus description:

    In our Environmental Mission Statement we commit to “using energy efficiently and resources wisely.” Do we? How do we know? In this course we critically compare different methods of assessing environmental impact and dig into the data to evaluate our performance. Through a combination of guest speakers and hands-on activities we range across many topics within sustainability at every level of the Marlboro community. These topics include energy, waste, food, transport, forestry and greenhouse gas emissions. Prerequisite: None Introductory | Credits: 3

    Thanks for such a thorough and thoughtful analysis. Is their hope for us? Sometimes I really wonder.