By Sarah Ross, Student Zero Waste Coordinator
For the past 8 years, Southern Oregon University has consistently hovered around a 50% diversion from landfill. We need to understand how to increase this diversion while at the same time reducing the amount of trash. To further investigate what is driving the University to hover at 50%, we kicked the cans in campus buildings to take a closer look at what the story of trash is telling us.
A waste audit is a hands-on survey that characterizes the types, quantities, and origins of waste generated in the institution. A waste audit verifies what materials SOU is bringing onto campus, and tells us where we can divert more effectively either through recycling, or even better where we might be able to look at alternatives to reuse and reduce materials. As the Zero Waste Coordinator, I got up close and personal with the types of materials being thrown away, and what materials are being recycled. In total, we surveyed five bags of trash and three recycling bags from three different buildings on campus, an academic building, an administrative building, and the Stevenson Union.
Starting on May 10th, 2022, I marched down to SOU’s Recycling Center and received a smile and the biggest pair of protective gloves I have ever seen from my manager, Becs Walker, SOU’s Sustainability Manager. I was eager to dump all the trash bag contents and start analyzing the trash!
The waste audit included weighing each bag, then sorting its individual contents into pre-established categories. After sorting materials into respective piles, each category was weighed to establish the percentage of weight each material contains.
After sorting out and weighing the contents of each trash bag, here is a summary of the key findings:
The original question of why we aren’t improving our diversion rate and reducing the amount of trash going to landfills left me with more questions.
Why don’t we reuse more?
Why do we purchase single-use items?
How can we educate and help understand more about the use and disposal of materials?
And of course, can we reduce, reuse or recycle it?
In addition to this, in the process of sorting through the trash bags, it quickly became apparent that many small trash bags from individual trash cans took up the space of each larger bag as well. Do we really need to use all these individual trash bags? In one large trash bag, there were a whopping 18 smaller individual bags, some of which only with one item in. This feels wasteful. This issue was initially addressed by Becs Walker’s article in 2020: https://sustainability.sou.edu/trashing-the-trash-cans/
All the questions and evidence that came from the waste audit showed me how we can look forwa rd to the fall term and continue to reduce waste through outreach, advocacy, and education and learn more about how our trash talks.
If you have any ideas about what more we can do to sustainably manage materials across campus and increase our diversion from landfill, please email email@example.com .
To follow updates and learn more about sustainability follow @sustainability_sou on Instagram! Or learn more about sustainability and recycling at Southern Oregon University at https://sustainability.sou.edu