Waste audit reveals 9% decrease in recyclables thrown away
Resembling hazmat workers in stark white biohazard suits, durable gloves and safety goggles, environmentally conscious students sorted mountains of garbage to determine the efficacy of Florida State’s current recycling programs. While there was a risk of encountering glass shards and the stray roach or slug, the real hazardous material was student apathy.
“Our waste is something that people don’t think enough about,” volunteer Prathyusha Pamidi said. “We’re so disconnected from it that we don’t realize how much we’re producing, where it’s going, and the lifecycle of the materials used.”
Members from FSU’s Environmental Service Program (ESP), Sustainable Campus and volunteers from the student body participated in ESP’s waste audit on April 12, as pools of brown liquid, much of it residual coffee, colored the blue tarp under foot.
ESP found that since the last waste audit in 2008, 2013’s waste audit saw about nine percent decrease in the wasting of recyclable items, concluding that only 40.5 percent of the material sorted and examined could have been recycled. The audit covered 116 bags, amounting to 928.5 lbs. of garbage in total.
Eco-artist and photographer Chris Jordan, who focuses on depicting garbage and mass consumption, made an appearance at the audit. There, he spoke to students about using art as a means of environmental advocacy.
Jordan joined volunteers in their protective gear under a tent on Union Green, as they examined garbage sourced from trashcans surrounding the Union to collect data on how much recyclable material is mishandled by students as trash.
“It’s just really obvious that a lot of this is going to be recyclable,” ESP president Colette Le Bienvenu said midway through the audit. “Hopefully in the future we can use what we find out today to educate students on the importance of recycling.”
President, Le Bienvenu said 2013’s waste audit was inspired by a similar audit in 2008 which concluded that 49 percent of sorted materials evaluated were in fact recyclable. This latest audit marks the first time a waste audit has been performed in five years.
“We want to see what kind of progress FSU has made because since then, FSU has taken a few steps forward toward sustainability,” Le Bienvenu said. “But we think that there’s room for improvement.”
Le Bienvenu noted that in recent years, more recycling bins have been placed inside and outside buildings for more convenient recycling. Many trashcans in high traffic areas of campus, near the Union in particular, have been paired with bins for recycling plastic bottles and aluminum cans, each labeled “landfill” or “bottles & cans” respectively, effectively giving students the choice to recycle properly.
However, these labels aren’t always adhered to, one of the reasons for the audit.
ESP intends to improve FSU’s recycling measures further and the organization is currently working towards increasing paper recycling and making composting options available in the Union food court and campus dining halls.
During the audit, waste was separated into bins labeled with categories for proper reuse: compost, plastic, metals, glass, paper, cardboard, and e-waste. Dismantled shoes, dirty diapers, and uneaten apples were some of the audit’s more unexpected waste items. Recurrent items found were cigarette butts, Starbucks cups, which are clearly recyclable, and plastic food trays and containers from the adjacent Union food court.
“What we’re learning from this is that eating out can be very wasteful,” ESP vice president Jessica Blackband said. “I think it would be really cool to take your own cup when you go out to eat or bring your own utensils.”
After the initial sorting, the contents of each bin were weighed to see what weight of the total trash could have been recycled. ESP will release those statistics within the week, Le Bienvenu said.
The audit saw about 20 volunteers throughout the event’s five-hour span, but it was intended to inform a much broader audience. In addition to advocating for on-campus composting options, promoting awareness and educating the student body was one of the event’s main objectives.
Blackband said that students should pay recycling much more attention, noting that there are consequences for negligently wasting because it is an issue that will inevitably affect them in their lifetime.
“Any trash that we throw out, any waste that we create, that goes to our landfills and its impacting our world,” Blackband said. “Our generation is going to be approaching a time in our lives when we don’t have as many resources and we’re running out of all the oil and paper that allows us to be so wasteful. As students who are going to be living in that world, it’s important for us to understand the impact that our actions have.”