by Mike Bryson, Associate Professor of Humanities and Director of Sustainability Studies
Colleges and universities throughout the US are increasingly mindful of reducing solid waste production and increasing recycling/composting rates as part of overall efforts to make their physical campus operations more sustainable and less wasteful. Diverting waste away from landfills not only saves landfill space but also reduces associated greenhouse gas emissions.
Roosevelt University has an excellent recycling policy and program in place. The university’s current goals for reducing the waste it generates include a 50% diversion of all solid waste by 2015 at both campuses. An essential step in meeting this laudable goal is to conduct regular and systematic waste audits at both campuses. Students in SUST 240 Waste audited the Wabash Building at the Chicago Campus in Fall 2012, and the Schaumburg campus this past October.
Waste and recycling was collected by cleaning staff on Tuesday, Oct 22nd, from three areas of the Schaumburg Campus’ first floor: Two adjacent office areas, a high-traffic corridor and student lounge, and a classroom area. Then, a team of students from my SUST 240 Waste class — Travis Dominguez, Reece Krishnan, Laura Miller Hill, Ken Schmidt, and Tom Shelton (who is also RU’s sustainability coordinator in the Physical Resources department) — spent a few hours on Wednesday, Oct. 23rd, systematically sorting and weighing all the categories of material within the waste and recycling refuse. As we sorted, we segregated the waste by material type according to the EPA’s WARM framework. This allowed us to compare the material types (glass, metal, paper, plastic, food, etc.) in both the trash and recycling streams, and to weigh each material category.
The results varied according to the area of the building we sampled; but in general, way too much recyclable and compostable material is getting into the trash stream at the Schaumburg Campus, and not nearly enough is being diverted into the recycling stream.
As the above graph from our waste audit report shows, there is a relatively good balance of materials in the recycling stream in the classroom area of the campus that was sampled (top bar), but most of the trash stream is potentially recyclable, particularly paper. This potential for improving the diversion rate is aptly illustrated by the graph below, which documents the percentage of material (by weight) within the trash stream that day which could’ve been either recycled or composted. Had that been done, the waste diversion rate would’ve exceeded 70% — way above the university’s near-term goal of 50%, thus saving space in existing landfills and reducing associated greenhouse gas emissions.
As a result of our Schaumburg Campus waste audit this past fall, SUST 240 Waste students note that the waste diversion rate can be vastly improved by the following measures:
- Providing more recycling bins (for metal, glass, and plastic) in the office areas. Right now there are paper recycling bins, but nothing else.
- Designating “Recycling Captains” for each office area and academic unit (e.g., college) who can champion recycling in that part of the building.
- Educating students, faculty, and staff on proper recycling protocol through new student orientation, staff training, posters, etc.
- Implementing on-site composting for food and yard waste, which would divert a tremendous amount of organic material from landfill and provide soil for the community garden.
- Banning bottled water, plastic bottles, and single-use “K-cups” from campus to decrease unnecessary plastic waste.
Find the full report here: pdf
The SUST 240 Waste Audit team: Laura, Tom, Ken, Reece, and Travis
(photo: M. Bryson)