By Peter Cooke
This past Wednesday, Oct. 30, Union held its bi-annual trash audit. With records going back to 2010, these audits allow the school and interested members of the student body to see the progress of environmental initiatives and programs.
The process of the trash audit is fairly straightforward. A random bag of trash is selected from each of the buildings on campus. After they are weighed, a group of students sift through the trash for objects that do not belong in the garbage. These articles of waste are then sorted into their proper categories. The Environmental Club performs these audits bi-annually, in the fall and spring terms.
Sarah Neely ‘15 organized the event this term and was able to explain a breakdown of the current status of the program as well as some of the overall goals that were the motivating forces behind the project.
There were two primary motives behind the trash audit, Neely explained.
“We wanted to raise awareness of proper waste separation, while simultaneously educating Union students and faculty on how effective they truly are at recycling,” she said.
In order to more effectively educate students and faculty, the audit was held outside of the front entrance of Reamer Campus Center. This central location was chosen so the results of the recycling effort were hard to miss.
A perennial problem for the students and faculty that work to improve Union’s sustainability is convincing students that their actions do have an impact on the campus. This audit is a good time to show the student body the consequences of their actions.
The other main goal for the program was to collect data so efforts to decrease Union’s environmental impact can be focused into the areas where they are needed most. Due to previous audits, students were able to pinpoint some of the problem areas.
An example of this comes from the 2010-2012 school years when the most prevalent item misplaced into the trash was plastic. The school took notice and had an improving record, due partially to the introduction of a single-stream recycling system which simplified the process dramatically. Without the trash audit, the school wouldn’t have known which areas to focus on.
The data from this year’s audit showed a deviance from the improving trend of the past few years. The problem waste product from previous years, plastic, dropped to only 21 percent of the improperly disposed waste material.
This change was most likely due to the establishment of a single-stream recycling system. This year numbers show that the new problem area, with 45 percent of the non-landfill waste, was compostable material.
In regards to this issue, Neely stated, “It was disappointing, but serves as motivation for us to increase our efforts and continue to raise awareness and educate the campus. There have been hopes of ultimately introducing composting to Reamer, which would undoubtedly lower the large amount of compost sent to the landfill.”
With composting initiatives already in place at Upper and West it wouldn’t be a hard sell getting composting bins installed in Reamer Campus Center.
While this Fall’s trash audit revealed a new problem for our campus to face, there are a few areas where changes to the trash audit that would allow the environmental programs enacted by Union to give even better results.
One change that would help to identify problematic areas on campus could be to keep records of where the misplaced items originate from. Another more focused change could come from increased interaction between our campus and the center that handles the recycling for the school. This relationship would allow us to follow the process in more depth and allow the student body to learn more about the ins and outs of recycling.
Neely provided some tips to invoke helpful habits around campus and to decrease the amount of recyclables in the trash.
The first is to save plastic bags and other commonly misplaced items together so they can be recycled at a later date. The second is to always try to finish all of the food on your plate. This habit will help to decrease the amount of food waste and get you thinking about portion control in one simple step.
Finally, when eating with a group, take the extra second or two and grab your friends’ recyclables. While not everyone cares about the environment as much as they should, setting a good example will help everyone in the long run.
Union has come a long way in trying to actively improve our environmental impact.
Every little bit counts, and with continued attempts to educate and take action we are on a proper path towards making a difference.