Final Project

Table of Contents


With the increasing environmental problems our society faces, sustainability is becoming more and more of an issue. However, for many people, it can be confusing. What does sustainability mean? How does one achieve it?

For institutions, such as Universities, it can be even more difficult. They must take the viewpoints of many different people into account when attempting to become environmentally friendly. For them, a comprehensive definition of sustainability is crucial, in order to define goals and create strategies.

For the purpose of this project, we have defined sustainability as, "The responsible management and use of resources, which allows for their use into the indefinite future." This definition has been applied to the recycling programs at the University. By doing so, we hoped to identify areas of possible improvement, in order to create goals and strategies to increase the effectiveness of recycling at the University of Waterloo.


The first year as a University student is a time of confusion: Expectations and standards have changed; for most students, they are living away from home for the first time. Many of the University of Waterloo's students are not from the Region of Waterloo.

With all of the important decisions to make, and all of the confusion, recycling is not a top priority for most students. They would like to recycle, but they are not sure of how to go about it. What is recyclable, where does it go, when does it get picked up? Without this knowledge, students' recycling habits are less than effective.

We feel that specific, targeted education of first-year students in particular can increase the effectiveness of the University's recycling as a whole. Most first-year students will be on the campus for four years, which allows us to create a long-term, sustainable knowledge base within the population. As well, by targeting first-year students, we hope to create a self-renewing educational system that will continue to be effective for years to come, without our direct involvement or input.

System of Study

Our system of study consists mostly of the consumption/waste system in the University of Waterloo. The human component (students, faculty, staff and visitors) is connected to the consumption/waste system by behavioural patterns, which are in turn largely determined by education.

As you can see, the line represented "education" on our system diagram is dotted; this is to represent the fact that much of the current recycling education on campus is missing its target. Many students still have low knowledge levels on this subject. Accordingly, this is where we are focusing our energy. By strengthening this part of the system, we hope to strengthen the system as a whole.


Our goal is to produce an educational package that can be used by students and others who come in frequent contact with them. One fact which many people may be unaware of is that the recycling programs on campus are not the same as those in the residences. This is because the University is responsible for the recycling in the educational facilities, while the Region handles recycling in the residential areas. In order to reflect the different practices and procedures in these two areas, we have divided the system into "residence" and "on-campus" components. This will allow us to focus our energies more effectively. The educational package will also reflect this division.


We asked ourselves three main questions throughout our research, in order to determine the weakest areas in the current recycling system. By doing so, we could target those areas, which would allow us to make the greatest possible contribution. Those questions were:

The answers to those questions can be found under Observations and Interviews.


Observations were made of the recycling habits of Waterloo's students by discretely watching what they disposed of in waste bins versus recycling bins. These were conducted in the food courts of Davis Center and of the Student Life Center. After three days of observations, we concluded that on average, the recycling facilities were used properly.

However, there were some problems. At both locations, straws were left in cans and bottles. This lead us to assume that people do not know that they are not recyclable. Another problem was that plastic bottles were being thrown into the garbage cans. Again, assumed that the reason behind this is lack of knowledge that they are recyclable. To solve these problems, we designed signs and posted them up on the recycling facilities at both locations. One sign reminded people that straws are not recyclable, and another reminded people that plastic bottles are recyclable with the cans.

After putting the signs up, we decided to check if they actually helped the situation. Another observation was performed at Davis Center. From this observation, we concluded that people did not leave the straws in with their recyclables.

However, the problem with the plastic bottles still existed. To solve this we made g more signs and posted them on the garbage cans; these would remind students not to put the plastic bottles in the garbage. After putting up these signs on the garbage cans, we performed another observation at Davis Center to see if it worked. And it did! People read the signs and started recycling plastic bottles.

Our conclusions from the observations were that:

Based on these conclusions, we decided to focus more on the Village Residences.


We interviewed a number of different individuals within the university community who we felt would be able to help us establish the problems currently being encountered by the recycling program. (see contacts)

The interviews with Patti Cook and Kathrine McCran confirmed our assumptions about what where the problems and barriers preventing the success of the existing recycling system in the Villages were. They both confirmed that:

  1. There is a lack of knowledge of what is recyclable in the Villages, creating great confusion and improper use.
  2. There is a lack of cooperation and interest from dons to help students use the recycling facilities properly.
  3. There is a lack of recycling facilities and proper signs in busy areas (i.e. lounge and laundry)

They also supported our claim that students would recycle more if it was made easy and accessible.

Interviewing the Village Managers gave us an opportunity to know exactly what type of recycling system existed in the villages for an "x" amount of students.

Peter Jordan (Village II Manager): We did not speak with Peter because he was on holiday, so we spoke with his assistant. He confirmed that Village II has:

He also said that Village II is currently empty but there are conferences going on. Therefore we will have to wait until September 1996 to post the pamphlets in each room.

Patty Gable (Village I Manager): She confirmed that Village I has:

She suggested we contact Liane O'Donnel prior to posting up pamphlets.

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