Whose Garbage is it, and where is it going?

Executive Summary

It was observed by the UW waste management co-ordinator that several delivery people had been disposing of their potentially recyclable shipping waste in the University's disposal containers. However, despite extensive observation by the group, this could not be confirmed. It was originally assumed that the University's proposed Green Purchasing Policy would eliminate problems incurred by environmentally unsound purchasing decisions. It was found, however, that the proposal was vague and meager in comparison to what had been accomplished at other post-secondary institutions. These documents allowed us to formulate guidelines for an improved UW green purchasing document.

Table of Contents

1.0 Briefing

2.0 Mission

3.0 Methodology

4.0 System Study

5.0 Evidence

5.1 Surveillance

5.2 Food Services Waste

5.3 The Alleged Dumpers

5.4 The question of Cardboard

6.0 Informants

7.0 Experimental Conclusion

8.0 Purchasing Policy Recommendations

8.1 Background

8.2 Guidelines To Green Purchasing

8.3 Specific Guidelines and Alternatives

9.0 Recommendations For Future Work

10.0 Conclusion

11.0 References


Sustainable development has become the catch phrase of the nineties; the decade where being environmentally friendly is more of a trend than an ethic. The Brundtland Commission, in its famous report "Our Common Future", defined sustainable development as that which "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (Bruntland Commission, 1987). Although this definition has gained worldwide acceptance it is missing an important element that society must be socially, as well as physically and economically, sustainable. There must be radical adjustments in traditional assumptions, values and beliefs about the environment.

Environment and Resource Studies 285 has scaled down the enormous task of creating a sustainable earth to a more tangible "greening the campus" project. The task at hand involves applying sustainable principles to the University of Waterloo (UW) campus by studying various aspects of the UW microcosm. A sustainable UW campus would produce graduates possessing inherently holistic perspectives. Curriculums would include material from other departments to teach students to see beyond their own limited spectrum, and install a sense of responsibility for the environment. Other indications of sustainability would include active research groups (such as WPIRG), campus-wide composting programs, as well as the continuation of the Lug-A-Mug and recycling campaigns.

Solving environmental issues involves accurately analyzing the fundamental causes giving rise to problems. From this perspective, addressing the source of an issue rather than treating its symptoms becomes the best way of problem-solving. The resolution of one component of a problem can lead to a chain reaction wherein other components are positively altered, and the entire dilemma (in its decreasingly powerful state) may then be tackled more easily. This "greening the campus" project is the first step in attacking UW's environmental issues from their source. In dealing with waste related issues, universities should play an active role in not only ensuring that its own waste is reduced, but that external sources minimize the amount of waste created. Although it is easy enough to point the finger at someone else, the university should enforce its values as adamantly in its purchasing contracts as it does with its curriculum. By taking responsibility, whether through contracts, research, or boycott, the University of Waterloo will place itself at the forefront of sustainable campus development and set an example for future generations to follow.


The university represents a culmination of research, knowledge, and experience. It is a powerful source in its roles as educator, explorer, and societal model. As a model, it can exemplify environmental values, providing a framework for the application of sustainable principles. Because the production and disposal of waste is a common and contentious resource issue, it is pertinent to address the problem with respect to campus ecology. While it is important to consider the waste generated by on-campus activities, the focus of this project is to examine the waste dispel practices of private retailers.

Patti Cooke, from the UW Campus Waste Reduction Office, then proposed a challenge to this team. She had observed certain suppliers dumping excess waste into UW's bulk waste bins. This waste, possibly containing recyclable materials as components of the main waste stream, might be increasing the University's "tipping fees" (i.e. the amount of money UW pays to have its waste remove by contracted companies that is calculated on a cost per volume basis). Initially, the goal was to estimate the amount and type of waste generated by external sources being left on the campus for processing. This included the analysis of contracts held by the University with Food Services and different vending companies to determine their effectiveness as waste minimizing agreements.

The investigation targeted the new Student Life Center because it houses both Food Services and private vending machines. The objective, after having determined the economic impact of the outside sources of waste, is to evaluate the proposed green purchasing policy in terms of its ability to be implemented, monitored, and enforced. This will reveal areas which can be improved, and will enable the University to minimize the negative impact suppliers might be having on its waste processing system. Once a specific problem has been established, recommendations will be made to address the greater social implications of waste production and reduction. These final recommendations can be extrapolated to provide suggestions for all food outlets on campus.

The investigation must include an examination based on the following criteria:


1.0 Determine if the suppliers are breaking their contracts.

2. Determine the economic impact of this waste disposal.

3. Examine and evaluate the Green Purchasing Policy.

4. Suggest areas that need further examination and investigation.


The purchasing policies of the University of Waterloo are derived from the principles of the economic world, where decisions are driven by dwindling budgets and increasing costs. From the University's perspective, purchasing objectives must maintain initial cost minimization with maximum benefits received. This goal is similar to the generally accepted corporate motto of decreasing costs and increasing profits. In either case, the dollar is the bottom line, and this is the foremost concern when outside companies are contracted to provide services on University property.

The system of focus for this study, as illustrated in the system diagram revolves around the relationship between students/faculty/staff of the university and its contracted vendors. Underlying levels reveal the involvement of many other actors, including the carriers and distributors of recyclable cardboard, refuse collection agencies, and the municipality. The relevance of these actors relates specifically to the economic system in that the University must pay to have its waste and recyclables removed, and is subsequently charged when recyclable materials are sent through the regular waste stream. Although cardboard has the potential to generate capital, the market frequently fluctuates and does not always provide a substantial monetary gain. These factors necessitate that profitable organizations working on the University campus, such as Food Services, pay a tipping fee to compensate for waste they generate into the University's financial equations. Other vendors, however, are not contractually required to remove the waste they generate during unloading or unpacking processes. The suspected illegal dumping of these vendors may have an impact on the expenditures of the University.

This economic purchasing model is static in structure, but dynamic in behavior. The changing face of society is reflected in economic interactions, but the goals and objectives of the actors remain the same. Certainly in a time of decreasing university funding, it is important to create a system that is resistant to change, and takes into account factors other than mere monetary ones. This can be achieved by streamlining many aspects of the University as a corporation, starting at the administrative and purchasing levels. The elimination of externally-originated, negative, superfluous costs, such as those possibly resulting from illegal dumping, is one such step. The introduction of the green purchasing policy may also contribute to positive development of a better economic system.


5.1 Surveillance:

The following documentation is an example of a basic investigation:

"On March 18, I observed the Canada Dry supplier during a routine delivery of beverage to the Math and Computer Coffee and Donut Shop. The delivery truck was backed up to the loading dock. I examined the contents of the truck and observed approximately 5 cases of juice, (containing 24 glass jars per case) and six cases of cola (each case consisting of approximately 24 plastic bottles of product). The juice cases were made from corrugated cardboard about 7 cm in height and 1053 cm2 in area. The cola cases were made from durable plastic approximately 30 cm high and 900 cm2 in area. The juice cases were wrapped together with a light plastic cellophane to prevent movement during shipment.

The delivery person proceeded to remove the plastic wrapping from the juice cases, throwing the waste into the delivery truck. Approximately less than 1 kg of waste was produced and no University receptacles were used for its disposal. The shipment was loaded onto a trolley and taken to the Coffee and Donut Shop where it was unloaded. The juice bottles were left in the cardboard cases while the cola bottles were removed from the plastic cartons. These cartons were taken back to the Canada Dry delivery truck, presumably for reuse. No other waste was generated from the delivery except for the cardboard juice cases which are made with recyclable materials.

5.2 Food Services Waste:

An interview with the manager of Food Services in the Student Life Center revealed that very little waste is generated through the delivery of supplies. Most products received by "Brubakers", the restaurant in the SLC, arrive in recyclable cardboard boxes and have little amounts of non-recyclable content. Products such as bagels arrive in reusable plastic tubs from the manufacturer, through the Commissary and to Food Services. These bins are then sent back to the manufacturer and refilled. All tin, cardboard, and possible plastics are recycled by the staff at Food Services. There were no "environmental offenders" to be found.

5.3 The Alleged Dumpers:

Through our stake-outs we intended to discover which companies were disposing of alleged "waste" in the University of Waterloo's dumpsters contributing to garbage pick-up costs. Through intense surveillance of the Student Life Center we were unable to spot anyone performing the alleged "illegal" dumping of waste. Initially we discovered that there is nothing contained in any of the University's purchasing contracts which prohibits the dumping of excess waste. Therefore even if vendors were placing their refuse in the Universities bins, they were not violating their contracts in doing so.

5.4 The Question of Cardboard:

Why the concern about excess recyclable cardboard when the University can make money from the sell of the product? While the University pays approximately $30,000 a year to have the cardboard bins serviced, the amount incurred from this process is insignificant. Due to the relatively new market for recyclable material the price per ton fluctuates massively. In one month the University may earn up to $1,500, while the next month they may earn none (Patti Cook). Also with increased amounts of cardboard in the bins, more frequent servicing is required, increasing the total monetary inputs for the program and making it less efficient.


Patti Cook:

Waste Management Coordinator University of Waterloo

Patti initially informed the WATgreen 285 class of the alleged disposal of recyclable cardboard items in garbage dumpsters on campus. Patti was also available with information relating to campus systems on an on-going basis throughout our research.

Jeff Chalmers:

Assistant Director Production and Procurement University of Waterloo

Mr. Chalmers informed us that the alleged dumping has not in the past nor is currently a concern. We also discovered that there is no clause in the vendors contracts which states that they are responsible for removing their own waste. In turn this meant that the dumping of waste in the Universities dumpsters is not "illegal"

Brubakers Staff:

Student Life Center: University of Waterloo

The staff at Brubakers were very helpful in revealing to us their sound environmental practices. An efficient recycling process exists and all efforts are made to be efficient and to reduce unnecessary use of resources.

Commissary Staff:

University of Waterloo

By investigating how food is handled and distributed at the Commissary we again discovered a thorough recycling program, including the use of reusable plastic food containers and the recycling of all cardboard and paper products. Employees at the Commissary possessed a keen knowledge of environmentally sound practices.

Internet Resources:

Various Universities

In respose to e-mail sent to people in the purchasing departments of a dozen Canadian and U.S. universities, along with a request to forward the mail to any other relevant persons, many responses were received, ranging from letters of encouragement, to individual policy efforts, and lists of other policy resourses on the internet.


After many hours of surveillance, we concluded that there were no flagrant violators. Although this does not mean that there is no problem, we did not view any potential offenders from our observations. Our group decided to switch focus to ameliorating the current Purchasing Policy which is now on hold.


The University currently has a set of guidelines detailing the legalities of the purchasing process. This is to ensure that the process is open, fair and competitive. However, until recently, there was little attempt made to formulate a cohesive policy that would encourage purchasing agents on campus to procure goods that do the least environmental damage in their manufacture, use and disposal. A short policy statement was developed that emphasized the desirability of purchasing goods that are recyclable, and have a high recycled content. It is felt that while this policy represents a step towards a complete environmental procurement policy, it is inadequate. From examining policy documents at Universities in Canada, the United States, and in England, it was recognized that it is possible to develop a policy which has considerable scope and power over the purchasing process. It is from these documents that the following purchasing guidelines were developed.


The University of Waterloo is a powerful consumer for a substantial variety of goods, serving a wide range of people. In purchasing goods and services, the university is able to use its power as a significant buyer to influence its contractors' activities. The University alone spends over $30,000,000 annually in direct and indirect local goods and over $580,000,000 per annum provincially. We have over 28,000 students and staff who frequent the campus and use goods which the University buys(UW INFO). The University, therefore, has a considerable impact on environmental systems through the purchasing of goods for its substantial population.

Because of UW's large influence, the university must assert its power by carefully selecting products which minimize adverse impacts on the environment. Purchasing with the environment in mind will help to create and sustain markets for environmentally sound products. If the University can instill the values of an environmentally sustainable society upon its contractors, it will be able to mold purchasing contracts and supplier procedures.

It is our belief that if the University includes environmentally sensitive specifications for all purchasing contracts, then a positive and sustainable atmosphere in the university community will be created. UW must assert and act out its position as a 'forward thinker' in a society where change is necessary.



One of the main accomplishments of adopting a green purchasing policy is the creation of a demand for environmentally sensitive products. Creating and sustaining a market for these products can be achieved through the use and purchase of environmentally friendly products and services the University aids in creating and sustaining a market. In the long run this will decrease costs based on greater availability due to demand.


These ideas are the foundations for projects to be undertaken in the future, and issues which could be further invstigated.
  1. The vending contracts, and all other contracts should be reformed to include the issues of waste and recycled matter.
  2. There should be a clause in place in these contracts that makes it illegal for retailers to dispose of shipping and other such waste on campus.
  3. Retailers should be notified of this new clause, and the clause should be enforced using fines as penalties.
  4. The University of Waterloo's green purchasing policy should be expanded to become much more specific (See section 8).
  5. The door loading dock at the Campus Center is left open for long periods of time during deliveries, and even after the trucks have left. To minimize the energy use at the Campus Center a door closing police should be in effect.
  6. The feasibility of plastic recycling should be investigated.
  7. The possibility of providing an incentive for green purchasing practices and reduced waste disposal should be explored.
  8. A separate policy for construction practices should be developed.


In our society it is understood that change is a vital and necessary occurrence. If our current practices of accumulating waste along with our quickly increasing population levels persist, we will soon find ourselves suffocating in our own refuse. As a scaled-down system of a larger society, the University can act as a model for developing sustainable practices, and specifically in reducing waste. The first step in this process would be to reform our current practices through the implementation of a Green Purchasing Policy. We can prevent contamination of the University's system by not allowing environmentally harmful products and services to enter it. We hope that the success in the Green Purchasing Policy will influence other interrelated systems which are connected to the University. In the amount of people the University of Waterloo represents and with the substantial amount of goods which the University buys, we have a great influence over economic systems which can in turn influence and instigate change in social norms.


Sustainable Development in Higher Education,

World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future, Oxford University Press, 1987, pp. 36-46.

University of Madison-Wisconsin Purchasing,

University of Virginia Purchasing,