by James Hearne
Twice a year, a group of student volunteers gather in front of the Syre Student Center and sort through the contents of every single garbage receptacle on campus. Their purpose is to sort out and count how many items could be recycled instead of being thrown in a landfill.
Blanche Bybee, the prep lab supervisor for biology and chemistry, said that the event is part of an effort to increase awareness of sustainability issues. Bybee was quick to emphasize that the goal is not to measure how much people throw away, but what they throw away.
“We need people to stop and think about what they’re doing and sort their waste effectively,” she said.
There are many instances, Bybee said, of students throwing away things that could be recycled. One common example is throwing away paper products with food contamination, which actually should go into the compost bins. Another is plastic bottles that still have liquid in them, which should be emptied and thrown in the plastic bottle bin.
Since 2010, the waste audit has been held once in the spring, and again in the fall. The first waste audit, in the spring of 2010, only collected garbage from selected bins, whereas every one afterwards has measured the waste from the whole campus. This is to ensure more accurate data with regards to peoples waste disposal habits, which have been improving since the first waste audit.
Bybee said that in the first waste audit, 93 percent of things that were in the landfill bin could have been recycled. By contrast, during the last waste audit, in spring 2011, the amount of waste that should have been recycled had fallen to 77 percent.
Why the difference in recycling rates? “It’s hard to say,” Bybee said, adding that the signs on the bins have probably helped. “When we first started, the problem was infrastructure and signage,” she said. “Now it’s education.”
Zeb Russell agrees. As the student coordinator for the waste audit, it’s his job to make sure space is available as well as get the equipment required. The equipment includes a large digital scale, supplied by Bellingham Technical College, and receptacles, supplied by the Sanitary Service Company.
“Teaching what needs to be done is really important,” Russell said. More specifically, he said, educating people in person, with methods like Power Point presentations, is really helpful.
However, Russell says the best way to convince people is to practice what you preach. “I’ve always tried to do this in my personal life, to the best of my ability,” he said.