Campus Waste Audit Examines Recycling Habits

Starting at 8:30 a.m. yesterday in the parking lot behind Building D recently, a small mountain of trash bags was ripped open one by one and poured onto a big blue tarp. In spite of the 90 degree heat and the stench of day-old garbage, 17 volunteers eagerly poured over the bags’ contents, creating neat little piles of different materials.

These people were no ordinary dumpster-divers, though. These volunteers were getting dirty in the name of sustainability, as part of Santa Fe College’s campus-wide waste audit. Representatives from Santa Fe’s sustainability committee, the non-profit ARC of Alachua County, and the Alachua County Office of Waste Alternatives braved the smell to assess the state of recycling initiatives on campus, based on the waste collected from Tuesday, Oct. 26.

“Our office’s whole goal is to educate the people about the amount of waste they produce,” said Patrick Irby of the Alachua County Waste Alternatives office. “Students in this age range don’t take as much interest in this. Once they throw something away, it’s not their problem — it’s other people’s problem. So showing this side of trash is important. It’s showing what our actions result in.”

This event marks the second time Santa Fe has conducted a waste audit. These audits measure the amount of trash this campus, minus the Teaching Zoo and the Little School, produces in the course of a day. Trash bags from each waste bin are examined separately, to see which parts of campus are in most need of recycling facilities and education.

“We’ve trained people not to be litter bugs, but now we need to train people to make a conscious effort to throw away their trash in the right containers,” said Barbara Fields, a member of Santa Fe’s sustainability committee. “If we have trash cans next to recycling bins, they’ll make more of a conscious effort to throw things into the right bin.”

The sustainability committee paid for recycling bins to be placed around campus, but this waste audit is a chance for the committee has to test their efficacy. The audit ultimately benefits the county’s Waste Management services too. With no landfill within Alachua County, each truckload of trash has to be shipped to a landfill outside the district, and with landfills nationwide reaching capacity, the more trash that can be recycled or composted, the better.

Linda Nguyen, a Santa Fe Biology major and a member of the SF Organic Gardeners club, waded through the garbage nearly all afternoon and was stunned to find an excessive amount of paper towels and a live plant, all thrown out.

“Next time, we need to do this in the Oak Grove, right in the middle of campus, so everyone can see it and smell it,” said Nguyen. “If we want people to be aware of this issue, they need to see it for themselves to understand how much we’re wasting.”

Katherine Krause, an office assistant for Santa Fe’s business programs, volunteered to help ensure a sustainable world for her 8-year-old son and future generations.

“It shocks me and impresses me, the number of recyclable bottles that are in here, especially considering the number of recycling bins available to students on campus,” said Krause. “It shouldn’t take an effort to recycle–it does take thought and consideration, though.”

Not only did the waste audit provide information on what proportions of trash were recyclable or compostable, it also gave insight into the everyday lives of Santa Fe students.

“The volunteers tend to enjoy it more than they expect. Getting to see what everyone throws away is interesting. It’s kind of like spying,” said Irby.

As the welding rods — inert materials that decompose as a natural material — and assorted trash from H Building were swept off the tarp, a fresh bag from V Building, Santa Fe’s gym, was torn open and piled in the center of the tarp. A latex glove dove into the mound of Adidas shoe boxes and blue wristbands and emerged with a pair of black, Hanes-brand boxers. Another picked out a broken cell phone and a pendant with the word “love” written on it.

“Looks like we’ve got quite a love story shaping up,” one of the volunteers quipped.

Incentives to brave the smell of trash included 30 free lunches provided by Campus Subway  and other snacks. T-shirts were given to those who volunteered two hours, and Alachua County Waste Management handed out cloth shopping bags, but only one volunteer would receive the coveted award for most interesting item recovered. Among the contestants for the best find were packaged military rations, signed art posters, and a medical pump.

Ibry estimates that Santa Fe threw away more recyclables this year than were collected in the first waste audit over two years ago. About 10 55-gallon trash bags full of recyclables were collected, a discouraging figure for groups supporting campus sustainability. However, people like Fields still hope that Santa Fe ultimately becomes a zero-waste oriented campus.

“I’d like to do this three years from now and not have anything recyclable in this trash,” said Fields.

SF College’s sustainability website

~ This article was written by Allison Griner, Communication Specialist, College Relations