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Waste audit digs into campus trash

By Rebecca Cohoe

A recent project of the Sustainability Office and the Department of Geography is aiming to encourage people at Memorial to spend a little more time considering the impact of what they're tossing out.

This spring, Toby Rowe, sustainability co-ordinator at Memorial, led a team of students and staff in completing a campus waste audit, inspecting the contents of garbage receptacles from 13 different locations across Memorial's St. John's campus. The project was funded through the Harris Centre – MMSB Waste Management Applied Research Fund, a yearly fund that offers support to projects related to reducing the amount of solid waste making its way to provincial landfills.

"Most people don't think about garbage very much," said Ms. Rowe. "It is so easy to throw away. Nearly every cubicle and office has a bin."

Armed with personal protective gear and strong stomachs, Ms. Rowe's team sorted through the collected waste, carefully noting the makeup of the garbage. There were some interesting trends. In the garbage from most office areas, more than 15 per cent of the garbage by weight was recyclable paper. Food waste made up more than 20 per cent of the garbage in 10 of the locations, and in public areas with washrooms, paper towels contributed a whopping 20 to 30 per cent of total waste weight.

"We were expecting public and student areas to have paper in the garbage because students don't have easy access to recycling bins in some buildings or aren't aware that there are recycling bins that they can use," explained Ms. Rowe. "However, the amount of paper put in the garbage in some offices was surprising. Employees in all buildings on the St. John's campus should have easy access to paper recycling bins, so there is no need for paper to be in the garbage."

While there is room for significant waste reduction in some areas, Ms. Rowe also pointed to some positive findings.

"In most areas, there were not many refundable beverage containers in the garbage. Generally, Memorial is doing a good job with beverage container recycling," she said.

Looking ahead, Ms. Rowe has a number of suggestions that could help reduce the volume of waste that Memorial contributes to landfills.

"We know from discussions with students and employees that more education is needed on what is recyclable at Memorial and more consistency in types of recycling bins would be helpful," she said. "These simple initiatives could really contribute to reducing garbage and increasing recycling. Looking at the bigger picture, specific measurable goals for waste reduction need to be set and implemented by the university. An important part of this would be ongoing data collection so that we can track changes and measure success."

To read the report on Ms. Rowe's project, please visit In addition, the Harris Centre – MMSB Waste Management Applied Research Fund is now open for applications for its 2012-13 round of funding. The application deadline is Dec. 7. All details are available at the Harris Centre website.