BC gets their hands dirty

On April 21 as part of Earth Week, about 60 students made up of Rick Glover’s environmental science class, along with several other classes and volunteers got together to sort through an entire day’s worth of trash from the C building to analyze how students and staff were disposing of waste.

Students at the waste audit posing in Tyvek suits.
Students at the waste audit posing in Tyvek suits.

Students gloved up and dressed in Tyvek suits as the stink of rotting food and coffee, aided by a strong breeze, wafted through the southern courtyard across from the library. Many students were grimacing throughout the event, some even taking refuge from the smell. Student Jasmine Schubert remarked “It’s way more disgusting than I expected, a lot more food just completely uneaten thrown out. A lot of bags of recycling put in the trash.”

Students would take a bag of trash, open it up and sort the items within into categories like plastic, tin, aluminum, compostable plastic and soiled paper. Buckets were filled and weighed, with a team of students recording the weights and volumes. This allowed the contents of the trash bags to be examined and quantified, with those participating getting a firsthand idea of how much trash that could be composted or recycled was thrown away. “It’s pretty stark,” said Glover, “how much stuff could also go into the compost from what we throw away.”

BC community separates waste into designated buckets.
BC community separates waste into designated buckets.

Amber Nicholson of the Office of Sustainability was pleased with how the event unfolded, saying “It’s going great, we’ve had a great turnout. All of our waste is being sorted into the proper piles so we’re really excited that we had so many people that want to participate in this waste audit.”

For Glover, the environmental aspect of the project was forefront:

“Part of it’s an education component, part of it is trying to get people to recognize that we provide compostable materials in the cafeteria and if those things go into a landfill, they actually have a greater global warming potential than if they actually get composted and brought back into the carbon cycle that way.”

According to Nicholson, the data will not just show students and staff how waste is being disposed of, but will also be used “to inform our waste programs on campus, so that means we’re going to use it to improve our composting and recycling programs and maybe make a campaign out of it on campus.”

While the trash audit was an educational experience for the students and the data can help inform everyone, one of the problems facing BC is the high turnover in students.  Glover explained: “Teaching people to separate into waste streams […] especially at an institution where our institutional memory is so short, typically we have students for two years so how do we constantly retrain students how to separate waste streams?”

As of press time, the final data on the garbage audit was not available, but will be on the BC Sustainability website.