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Sustainability Interns Conduct Waste Audit

By Sustainability Office on April 10, 2018

–Miranda Gilgore ‘18

On Sunday March 25, Office of Sustainability interns conducted the 4th waste audit of the year in Colgate’s first-year and sophomore residential buildings. The purpose of the waste audits has been to determine the effectiveness of various types of recycling bins on increasing recycling and reducing contamination in the recycling stream. This work was motivated by Colgate’s low recycling rate of 15% and the fact that the amount of material that Colgate sent to the Madison County landfill was higher last year than any of the 8 preceding years.

Interns sort trash and recyclables for the waste audit.

The waste audits proved to be very successful, if a little smelly, showing that the Bryan Complex, which has Landmark-style recycling and trash bins has a much higher recycling rate than East Hall, which does not have the Landmark bins. The average recycling rate across the waste audits in the Bryan Complex was 57.78% while in East Hall the rate was only 22.21%.

Each of the four waste audits was conducted on a Sunday morning and afternoon. The dates were October 29th, December 3rd, February 25th, and March 25th. Bags of landfill waste and recycling were collected from all of the hallways and common rooms of the buildings. Each bag was labeled and weighed. Next, non-recyclable items were removed from paper and bottles & cans recycling bags. Common items included coffee and smoothie cups, straws, chip bags, and liquids. The presence of these items in the recycling stream can cause the entire bag of recyclables to be thrown into the landfill, so addressing contamination is an educational and structural priority. 

We also noted and recorded recyclables that were found in the landfill waste bags. Common recyclables in these bags included coffee sleeves, cardboard boxes, aluminum cans and plastic bottles, and paper. Although in general it is better to throw something out if you are unsure if it is recyclable, we believe that education and structural changes regarding recycling on campus can reduce the presence of recyclables sent to the landfill and increase the recycling rate.

The March 25th waste audit marked the last one of this academic year but the waste and recycling team of interns is working hard to compile a full report of the audits and recommend next steps for the university. Based on the initial results, it seems as though the Landmark bins are making a significant difference on the recycling rate and that additional Landmark bins, or similar bins, should be purchased and distributed across campus.

The waste audits helped us to understand some of the sticking points and challenges of recycling on campus, while also providing  an opportunity to examine how to improve the recycling rate. If you would like to become an ‘expert Colgate recycler’ you can check out the guide below or talk to anyone in the Office of Sustainability!

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