According to Air and Waste Management Association Faculty Adviser Ruth Sofield, garbage, recycling and compost bins should be together in order to reduce waste. Photo by Erik Simkins/The AS Review

According to Air and Waste Management Association Faculty Adviser Ruth Sofield, garbage, recycling and compost bins should be together in order to reduce waste. Photo by Erik Simkins/The AS Review

Evan Marczynski/The AS Review

A recent audit of trash from three Western dorms by the Huxley chapter of the Air and Waste Management Association found that nearly 85 percent of everything that was thrown away could have been composted or recycled.

The Feb. 2 audit surveyed 971 gallons of trash from the Mathes, Edens and Nash residence halls, said Devin Mounts, the chapter’s co-chair.

Volunteers were spread out in front of Carver Gym digging through bags of trash piled between chain link fences and sorting out all of the waste that could either be recycled or composted.

Mounts said the goal was to collect enough data to convince Western administrators that more on-campus waste reduction services are needed.

The results of the audit bring into question the effectiveness of the recycling and composting services currently available at Western.

Campus Sustainability Coordinator Seth Vidaña said he thinks the AS Recycling Center is doing a great job encouraging students and faculty to recycle, but more emphasis on waste reduction and access to other reduction methods are needed if Western is to ever reach a campuswide goal of zero waste.

“We are currently not providing students enough options for composting,” he said.
Confusion over what can actually be composted might be one contributing factor to the high amount of garbage being thrown away.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, common on-campus items such as cardboard rolls, clean paper, coffee grounds and filters, fruits and vegetables, tea bags and shredded newspaper are all compostable.

Mounts said the most common compostable item found during the audit were paper towels. After sorting for just a few hours, volunteers were able to fill two 60-gallon containers full of them.

Ruth Sofield, AWMA’s faculty adviser, said the waste reduction options on campus differ widely from building to building.

In the Environmental Sciences building, where Sofield’s office is located, there are no compost bins. Also, the garbage and recycling bins are separated from one another and located in different parts of the building.

“You have to go to different floors if you want to recycle and throw things in the garbage,” she said.

This is also true for other buildings on campus. For example, in the VU Market there are garbage, compost and recycling bins located next to each other, but throughout the rest of the Viking Union, the bins are not always in the same spot.

Sofield said one solution to reduce waste on campus would be to put garbage, recycling and compost bins next to each other.

She said she thinks there are plenty of people who are willing to recycle, but if doing so means they have to hunt through an entire building to find a recycling container, they will more than likely just throw their garbage into the nearest trash bin.

Western’s Sustainability Office has tried to steer people away from garbage cans by labeling some of them with the word “landfill.”

Vidaña said relabeling garbage cans reminds people where the things they throw into them will eventually end up.
He said he would rather have all the stand-alone garbage cans on campus removed and replaced with waste containers that offer alternatives. That way whenever someone throws something away they will have other options, he said.

Sanitary Service Company (SSC) Recycling Manager Rodd Pemble said the practice of recycling and composting must get to the point where people do it without even thinking.

Pemble joined the volunteers sorting through garbage during the audit and said the SSC was happy to help Western reduce its waste and encourage recycling.

During the past two decades he has worked in recycling services, Pemble said he has seen a shift toward a greater acceptance and practice of recycling and waste reduction.

Now that recycling and composting have become more of a habit, there is more demand for his services than when he began working back in 1992, he said.

Pemble acknowledged that there are people who do not see benefits in recycling and have no interest in it. However, he said people can save money on their garbage bills by reducing the amount they throw away.

He also said that looking through your trash to find what can actually be recycled can be a real eye-opener.

“Once you’ve sorted a few bags of trash like this, you’ll never look at garbage the same way again,” he said.

Sofield also recognized that not everyone sees the benefits of waste reduction. Some argue against the cost of maintaining recycling services or that there are other, more dire problems facing the planet.

However, she said that recycling and composting offer simple ways for people to create positive environmental change.

“I think it’s worth it, but more than that, I think it’s really easy to do,” she said.