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Students get trashy

What is the purpose of having a waste audit held on campus with student participation? A waste audit can aid in improving the recycling system that is in place at Washington State University Vancouver and add other cost-effective improvements in disposal of all waste. Kaitlin Perkins, club President, and Robert Bacon, sustainability engineer at WSU Vancouver, concur protecting the environment “is the right thing to do.” Student participation can help create awareness for individual responsibility in protecting the environment and the “big picture” of safe waste disposal.

Bacon came to WSU Vancouver originally to do scientific research on hand dryer efficiency. Bacon’s findings indicated a substantial savings in use of electricity, paper and dollars. Bacon transitioned into his current position as sustainability engineer in June. The hand dryer system has been installed on campus with a calculation of saving $20,000 a year, with a return on investment in less than three years.
Perkins, who is a biology major minoring in environmental science, explained how research is the beginning of knowledge and education regarding proper disposal of waste happening in the waste stream and possible improvements that can be made after data is collected.

The audit began with a large tarp and four big bags of trash collected from garbage in WSU Vancouver’s food service area. The trash auditors put gloves on and separated compost materials, trash and recycling. Auditor’s included club members and students Marie Almquist, Ryan Griffith, Eric Keto, Bacon and Perkins.

Bacon’s audit report, used a system where waste items that could be recycled or composted were placed in individual bags leaving only the real trash. The composition of trash was as follows:

  •  Real trash 40%
  •  Recycling 25%
  •  Compost 35%

Bacon said, “The big ‘a-ha’ moment for the team of students helping us came when they noticed how much heavier the compost bags were than the trash. This is important because we pay per pound for our trash disposal. Composting is charged by the container. In the future we plan to use scales to demonstrate this better.”

While digging in the trash, Sarah Adams, business outreach and education for recycling and food waste for Waste Connections, came to observe. Adams said, “If you can show your boss the money that would be saved by changing the waste stream to composting, recycling and refuse service, it will be a win-win situation.” Bacon and Adams have known each other for years, working together and participating in waste audits to not only save the environment but also save money.Bacon said, “Education is a big part.” The current garbage system cost is per weight.

Compostable material is heavy and does not compact. Compost is less expensive to dispose of, saving the facility money. Also, composting and recycling could add more jobs than the landfills provide.

The Environmental Science and Sustainability Club, along with Bacon, intend on improving the waste stream process of consumers at WSU Vancouver by improving the bins on campus currently in use. Collecting data and improving the current system to make it easier for the consumers to take part in is also on their project list.

All students on campus are invited to join the club and put their ideas into action. Check out CougSync for more information about the club, join the club, contact members or learn about upcoming activities.

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