A WASTE AUDIT OF THE OUTDOOR GARBAGE CANS
APRIL 2, 2001
PROFESOR SUSAN WISMER
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The primary goal of the WATGREEN initiative is to create a sustainable campus, which means minimizing both the amount of resources a campus consumes, as well as the amount of waste it produces. Many of the previous WATGREEN student projects have explored a variety of ways to reduce the amount of waste produced on campus, but none of them had specifically targeted the outdoor waste containers (not the large dumpsters, but the regular size waste receptacles located adjacent to the walking paths). Our group decided to investigate the potential for reduction in this specific aspect of the University of Waterloo (UW) waste system. A visual audit determined that the quickest and easiest way to reduce the amount of trash going from the outdoor bins to the landfill, was to introduce a more rigorous and widespread recycling program. On average, recyclables made up roughly 45% of the waste in the outdoor cans. paper and styrofoam cups accounted for 30%, compostables for 5%, and what we labeled "true waste" made up the remaining 20%. An experiment was carried out to verify that students would recycle more if facilities were locates adjacent to the trash can. The experiment showed a noticeable reduction in landfill-bound waste.
The following audit was completed as part of the University of Waterloo course, ERS 250-Greening the Campus and the Community. Under the supervision of the WATGREEN team, the course aims to enhance the sustainability of the campus and the wider community by using it as a testing laboratory and putting our knowledge to use.
2.1 Sustainability on Campus
A working definition of sustainability is one that implies using the worlds natural resources to satisfy the needs of one generation without compromising the ability of future generations to fulfill the same needs. Every aspect of every activity we do including those that occur on campus has a direct effect on our society. Further than that, these actions and activities impact on the community, the world and the future. The concept of ecological footprints- the measure of the amount of natural resources used to perform activities comes into play at this point. The smaller the footprint the fewer resources used and the lesser the impact on the environment and the higher the sustainability level. Through an analysis of the disposal methods of people on campus, we hoped to gain a better understanding of these habits and suggest changes directed towards sustainability.
2.2 Rational and Background
The purpose of this study was to contribute to the WATGREEN goal of creating a more environmentally friendly and sustainable campus. In order to achieve this goal, one aspect of the campus was identified for analysis. This study focuses on outdoor garbage bins on campus and the types of waste disposed of in them.
Before commencing the study, the students involved in the project had observed a large number of people on campus depositing items in these outdoor bins that could potentially have been recycled. As a group, we eyeballed one bin and noticed that a large proportion of the waste disposed of in this manner was able to be recycled. After consultation with our project supervisor, Patti Cook, we discovered than no audit had ever been carried out on outdoor garbage bins on campus. We conducted our study to audit the types of waste and determine whether there was potential to redirect some of the garbage from outdoor bins on campus from going directly to landfill. As environmentally minded students, we conducted an audit of the makeup of garbage in outdoor bins on the University of Waterloo campus and made recommendations for further action and possible improvements.
2.3 Goals and Objectives
The goal of this study was to determine the potential for a reduction in the amount of waste going from the outdoor garbage containers to the landfill. In order to achieve this goal, the following objectives were completed.
An investigation into the system concerning outdoor garbage bins was required to identify current disposal and sorting methods of the contents of bins.
In order to gain a better understanding of what types of waste were being put in outdoor garbage bins and in what proportions we audited bins at several different sites to gain a better insight into the types of waste that were being disposed of in this way.
After determining which of the types of waste should be targeted for reduction, we introduced a variable to verify the viability of a proposal.
Finally, by using the information obtained through the completion of the previous objectives, we proposed recommendations to the grounds staff concerning ways to improve the sustainability of the UW campus, with regards to the outdoor garbage bins.
2.4 Limits to the Study
Due to time and resource constraints, not all aspects of garbage disposal on campus could be investigated. We set boundaries to the system by focussing our only on outdoor garbage bins on the University of Waterloo campus and did not look at indoor garbage bins or outdoor dumpsters at all. Furthermore, we only studied bins located within the campus ring road.
The group made the assumption that, for the purposes of creating a sustainable campus, there are more desirable locations than the landfill for certain types of trash (i.e. that glass, P.E.T, aluminum and paper products SHOULD be recycled, or that organic waste SHOULD be reused as a fuel source for other organisms, for example). It also assumes that sustainability is a desirable objective.
3.0 Literature Review
Since an audit of the outdoor garbage containers has never been done at the University of Waterloo, previous WATGREEN projects have been of limited relevance. There also appears to be no published results (either on the internet or otherwise) of similar audits at other universities. However, two studies were particularly pertinent to this groups work:
A previous group of Environmental Studies students have written a report on Recycling: An Evaluation of Contamination and Litter Problems. Their research goal was to evaluate the severity of contamination (i.e. the wrong materials), in the recycle bins of ES 1 and 2. The most relevant part of their study was to determine whether placing signs about recycling in the proper areas was helpful or not. It was found that generic information signs stating the type of material to be placed in each bin did not improve compliance. The placements of proper bins in necessary and convenient locations were found to increase the figures greatly. They also discovered that 75% of the respondents they surveyed found recycling inconvenient while none found it unimportant (Examining Recycle Contaminants of ES 1 & 2, 1998). The significance from this project compared to ours is that 75% of people consider it inconvenient to seek out a recycling bin, and are more likely to throw items in the trash can.
The University of South Carolina have conducted a research study in regards to reducing a considerable amount of solid waste while providing numerous opportunities for waste reduction/recycling efforts. To determine what type of trash were leaving the University, the Office of Custodial Services conducted an audit in 1993. The methodology they chose to use was qualitative, random sampling. Over a period of two and a half months, random grab samples were taken from 11 representative dumpsters across campus. The contents of the samples were categorized as glass, computer paper, colored paper, plastics, newspaper, white paper, cardboard, aluminum cans, food waste and other waste. The top three highest percent total sample of waste consisted of 29% paper, 14.5% other waste, and 11.5% glass. The University focused on the issue of the reduction in paper, since the results showed that paper was a high content that could be easily recycled. In 1994, another audit was done and it revealed that a vast cut of solid waste was reduced in the garbage bins. This project demonstrated to us the vast potential that recycling had in waste reduction.
Fisher, C; Keeler, K; Kennedy, C; Kovacs, M; Polluck, R; White, D. Examining Recycle Contaminants of ES 1 & 2. April 1998. http://www.adm.uwaterloo.ca/infowast/watgreen/projects/library/, Accessed March 26, 2001.
Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling, University of South Carolina. http://www.fmc.sc.edu/recycle/Ea96swrr.htm, Accessed March 21, 2001.
4.0 Methodology of the Audit
The primary objective of the project was to determine the composition of the trash in the outdoor garbage bins, so that suggestions may be made to reduce the amount which proceeds to the landfill. Given the time and financial restraints, the best way to deliver a comprehensive summary of the types and dimensions of the garbage was to conduct a visual audit.
4.1 Type of Audit:
A visual audit would allow the group to cover the maximum amount of garbage bins in the minimum amount of time. This type of sampling method allowed us to inspect 39 cans a week, and 117 in total, giving the group a very good feel for the types and dimensions of the trash.
The audit took place three times a week, on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday nights, as the scheduled pickup times were the following morning of each. This continued for three weeks, with the variable being introduced in the middle week (see section 4.3).
The visual audit that we chose to implement consisted of inspecting each can from the opening at the top. One or two project members would proceed to uncover the garbage below the surface through the use of pokers , and call out the number of items of trash that there were in the bin which fit into one of the pre-selected categories.
The categories were listed as follows:
These were determined as being the most relevant categories, as they broke the waste down into two main areas: (1) waste for which there was either an alternate destination, other than the landfill (such as recyclables and compost), or waste which could be eliminated at the source (re-usable vs. disposable drink cups). And (2), waste which could not be easily eliminated, except through a massive change in human habits (food wrappers, cigarette packaging, etc). Later recommendations would obviously focus on the waste which could be eliminated quickly and most easily.
Other types of audits were considered, such as an audit by weight or by exact volume, but these were rejected due to a lack of time and resources. While they might have produced more exact results, it was felt that the group would be better able to judge the dimensions of the Universitys trash, and therefore make better recommendations, if we inspected as many cans as possible. One flaw in a visual audit is that it gives equal weighting to any and all items, so that a glass bottle would score the same as a pizza box or a candy bar wrapper.
4.1 Site Selection
Because of time limitations as well as the number of garbage bins located on campus, we decided to limit our study to thirteen specific locations on the University of Waterloo campus. An interview with the supervisors of plant operations, Les Van Dongen and Jerry Hutten, gave us insight into the most heavily used bins on campus. The chosen bins were either located near heavily used pathways or adjacent to building entrances with a high traffic flow. Locations chosen for analysis were at four points around the SLC, Two in the Biology link, four at Davis Centre, one adjacent to the Greenhouse, one at the entrance to the Dana Porter Library and one at Modern Languages (see map below). We felt that these thirteen sites reflected the greatest variety of students and enabled us to generalise our findings to the entire University of Waterloo campus.
4.3 Introduction of the Variable
After the completion of the audit, it was decided that it would be prudent to test to make sure that any proposals which might arise out of the results would be viable. Since it was obvious after the first day that the easiest way to reduce the amount of waste going from the outdoor containers to the landfill was to improve campus recycling, we decided to introduce recycling bins at key locations across campus. Four recycling bins were placed adjacent to the trash cans outside of Davis Centre, the Biology link, the Student Life Centre and Dana Porter Library. The bins were left for a week and audited three times therein.
The purpose of the bins was to determine the impact that recycling facilities would have on peoples waste habits. From our research outlined in the literature review, it was decided that adjacent recycling facilities would be the best way to reduce the amount of waste bound for the landfill. Signs showing nearby recycling locations would be of limited impact, and there was a minute amount of compost in the outdoor bins.
After we our first week of auditing, we began to notice that all the garbage bins were very much alike in their contents. Even after the final week of testing results were still along the same lines of percentages. What we found was that on average most of the bins were broken down as 28% Tim Hortons cups, 23% paper, 21% real waste, 10% aluminium, 7% plastic, 7% compostable and 4% glass.
These graphs represent an average of the data found at the Davis Centre. Figure 1a, is the data collected when the recycling bin was not in place. It shows that 5.5% was plastic, 0.8% was glass, 0.8 was aluminium, 25.2% was paper, 24.8% was Tim Hortons cups, 1.6% was compostables and 24.6% was real waste. Figure 1b, is the data collected when the recycling bin was in place. It shows that 5.3% was plastic, 2,7% was glass, 7.5% was aluminium, 23.3% was paper, 21.6% was Tim Hortons cups, 4.1% was compostables and 11.1% was real waste. The whole idea of our project was to show that we need recycling bins outside accompanying our garbage bins. Although when looking at these graphs one would think that they do not prove our theory in fact it shows an increase of recyclable by 8.4%. There is a logical explanation for this happening and is in fact one of the difficulties we encountered doing our project. Sometimes when we went around to do our audit the bins were not emptied and therefore could not do the audit, and these bins were marked as containing no items, which was the case for the Davis Centre. There were a couple of occasions when the bins were not emptied in turn bringing the skewing the percentages.
These two graphs represent the variations in percentages found for the Student Life Centre. Figure 2a, are the results when the variable was not in place, 4.3% plastic, 4.5% glass, 10.5% aluminium, 13.8% paper, 19.5% Tim Hortons cups, 10.4% compostables and 19.0% real waste. The next graph shows the results when the variable was in place, 2.8% plastic, 2.8% glass, 6.8% aluminium 13.2% paper, 18.5% Tim Hortons cups, 14.9% compostables and 16.7% real waste. These graphs reveal a 6.9% decrease in recyclables found in the garbage bin at the Student Life Centre.
These are the most unusual ones yet. Figure 3a demonstrates the percentages found at the Biology link, 3.6% plastic, 4.1% glass, 11.9% aluminium, 14.5% paper, 22.3% Tim Hortons cups, 4.3% compostables and 27.4% real waste. Figure 3b shows, 3.3% plastic, 3% glass, 5,3% aluminium, 16.8% paper, 28.6% Tim Hortons cups, 9.3% compostables and 19.4% real waste. The funny thing about these graphs are the fact that in the first one there was more real waste when the recycling bin was not there, and when it was there the entire bin was made up Tim Hortons cups. Nonetheless, these figures represented an 8% drop in recyclables.
The Dana Porter was the last place we introduced a variable. The first graph, of the two, are the percentages obtained when the recycling bin was not in place, 3.5% plastic, 2.3% glass, 4% aluminium, 15.7% paper, 22.1% Tim Hortons cups, 5.7% compostables and 30.1% real waste. The next graph is as follows, 3.3% plastic, 2.8% glass, 3.1% aluminium, 21.9% paper, 26.5% Tim Hortons cups, 9.6% compostables and 16.1% real waste. Placing a recycling bin here only showed a 0.6% drop in recyclables but if the recycling bin were in place for longer than a week, there would be no doubt an increase of its use.
This project, the first of its kind, was able to conclusively demonstrate the need for a more aggressive outdoor recycling system at the University of Waterloo. Around 45% of the trash in the outdoor garbage bins is recyclable. Although our experiment with the introduction of the recycling bins showed limited success, were convinced that if it were left in place longer, students would familiarize themselves more with its location, and would use it in increasing proportions.
This group chose to pursue the question of outdoor garbage as a problem of sustainability, not from a business standpoint, therefore we did not actively engage in a cost-benefit analysis. Although the recycling facilities advertised on the web from such companies as "Waste Warrior" (www.wastewarrior.com) or "Windsor Barrel Works" (www.windsorbarrel.com) are advertised at a cost of $500 or more per unit, it would still be UWs interests to pursue the proposed initiative. Garbage disposal costs the university $130 a ton ($80 in tipping fees and $50 for pickup), whereas recycling costs only $15 a ton in the case of glass. On paper, we brake even, while on cans and PET we make a profit.
We propose therefore, that the University introduces recycling facilities adjacent to all of its outdoor garbage bins. This could be done over a series of years to lessen the impact of the cost.