Last week, a group of students suited up and sorted through bags and bags of your garbage.
No, these volunteers were not trying to steal your identity, but were taking part in a university-wide waste audit organized by R4, a working group of sustainable Concordia.
“The things that give us an idea of what people are putting in the trash and maybe what some of our educational campaigns can focus on,” Faisal Shennib, environmental coordinator for Sustainable Concordia, said of the audit.
From Monday to Friday of last week, some of the University’s custodial workers collected bags from major buildings on both campuses, tagged them and delivered them to the compactor room in EV where the volunteers, adorned in lab coats, gloves, goggles and dust masks were eagerly waiting. The bags were then weighed, and their contents spread on a table for sorting.
“Basically what we were looking for is what in the garbage is actually garbage, what is recyclable, what is compostable and then subdivisions within all of those,” Shennib explained.
This year’s audit included the usual repeat offenders, essentially bags filled with water bottles and coffee cups (it was ‘roll-up’ month after all). Still, Shennib said he was disappointed with the amount of recyclables present in the garbage. “Especially things like paper. It’s really weird seeing white sheets of paper, lined paper or newspapers in the garbage, but that seems to happen a lot,” he said.
Shennib also said he didn’t know whether it was laziness, poor placement of recycling bins or some other factor that led to the lack of recycling, but that the audits “always highlight the need to totally reassess the recycling system; I think it’s not good at all.”
The audits have been going on since 2005, and Shennib pointed to the placement of a massive composter at Loyola following a food waste audit as one example of their value.
This year’s audit indicated that the food waste problem still exists on campus, but this may soon change with the implementation of compost bins downtown according to Shennib. “We’ve already started to see some compost bins put up in the Hall building starting a few weeks ago,” he said, noting the custodial department’s initiative in placing these bins on both the first and seventh floors. “And we’re probably going to be seeing more as we gauge how well they’re working.”
To address the coffee cup problem, he also pointed to a campaign currently being worked on by business students as a course project, which would see reusable mugs provided on campus. Students who forgot or didn’t bring a mug would still be able to get coffee or tea in one, which they would then drop off for washing anywhere at the University.
As valuable as the audit is for environmental and sustainable efforts on campus, it’s also extremely valuable for the group of volunteers according to Shennib. “The idea is that you don’t need to anything about waste issue coming in to help with the waste audit,” he said. “It’s a really good learning experience because you basically get in there and get a crash course on what is recyclable and what is compostable.”
Shennib also said that the volunteers leave much more aware of the problem at hand.
“It kind of clicks with people that we really should be trying to make our society zero waste,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to have garbage.”