Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ever Wonder How Much Waste the College Makes?

Here on our blog, we talk a lot about what we find in the trash, but never how much trash we actually deal with. Contamination is certainly a big issue to keep track of, but unless we know the scale on which waste is being mis-sorted, it doesn't mean much. So, how much waste does a small Midwestern liberal arts college actually produce? The answer is a lot. Tons and tons of waste.

In order to illustrate the huge magnitude of waste the college produces, I whipped up some graphs. These graphs show the approximate amount of waste picked up each month of the 2013-2014 year (separated by landfill, compost, and recycling). The first graph shows the entire campus. All the subsequent graphs show individual buildings or clusters of buildings, and since these are on the same scale they can be easily compared.

Check them out:  (Make it full screen to see the data!)

Want to know how we got this info? We used the volume of the dumpsters at different sites, and information from our pickup services about the volume of waste they collected. From there, we used the national average weight of a cubic meter of each type of waste to convert our data. This is not a perfect method. For instance, since most of our compost is very light paper towels, our amount of compost produced is probably somewhat higher than it actually is. This method is, however, a pretty good approximation.

The astute reader also probably noticed that not all campus buildings have a graph. Graphs were made only of the largest contributors of waste, and buildings that had clear pickup schedules. All the buildings not included produced a negligible amount of the total, were not picked up in a way that we could easily measure (like houses that have their trash picked up by the city) or both. You can still get the big picture from the graphs here.

Looking at the data, it's clear that the majority of waste we produce is landfill. But, knowing the frequency of mis-sorted waste from our monitoring, much of those tons probably aren't really landfill. That means that without our educational efforts there would be an amount of waste on the order tons going to the landfill that doesn't have to. Kind of makes a monitor like me feel special.

Stay tuned for more waste data as the year progresses!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Just Food Summit

Thanks to Bon Appetit for organizing this uplifting and inspiring event, which drew students from St. Olaf, Macalester, and Carleton. The Carleton waste monitors were invited to facilitate a breakout session about reducing waste and also share information about the different initiatives we have on campus. Henri and Jackson are pictured here with all of the workshop attendees.

As a waste monitor, I realized there are dozens of other students who are having the same thoughts and grappling with the same questions as we are here at Carleton. I came away feeling very inspired.

6th Saturday

The Carleton College Waste Monitors. We are watching.
Matt takes a bite from the first thing he has ever eaten out of the trash. Congrats Matt!

Not the first thing Henri has eaten out of the trash.

Fancy take-out food; clearly came from off campus.

The monitors sit down to read the newspapers found in the landfill receptacle on 4th Watson.

Pumpkin found in the landfill in Watson.

Delicious apples found in the compost stream. Still crisp.

A fall display.

Metal coathangers found in the landfill. Out recycle stream accepts scrap metal, so put miscellaneous metal items such as these in the recycling.

Sealed package of pasta found in Cassat

From the landfill in Myers.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

5th Saturday

Less than 24-hour old sushi (receipt to prove it). The fish flew may have flown in from far away

Interestingly, a cabbage was split half and half between the landfill and the compost receptacles.

Andrew finds durable tubes in the landfill. These are good for protecting posters during transport.

Collection boxes for the Skin Deep Clothing Exchange and for reusable dining hall cups. Would these items have otherwise ended up in our waste streams?

A new idea occurred to us this weekend, noticing cross-contamination between landfill and recycling receptacles in Cassat. The receptacles here are the exact same shape, and looking overhead, they appear the same—both are lined with a black bag. Only when viewed laterally can you see the difference between these bins—one is grey, the other is blue. We now hypothesize that some cross-contamination may be due to simple placement errors, i.e. the student correctly identifies his or her item as recyclable, but accidentally places it in the wrong receptacle. A strategy for decreasing contamination rates may then be to not only color bins differently, but to make sure that they are shaped differently as well. These properties would overlap with the relative sizing of the bins: ideally, the compost and recycle bins are sized much larger than the landfill bin, to reinforce that most waste is compostable or recyclable.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

4th saturday

The waste monitors are watching
Salami, an apple, and 19 sticks of butter in the landfill bin on 4th Myers

None of these resources had expiry dates until 2015. Why were they on their way to the landfill?

A half bottle full of lotion. Henri is reading the ingredients, considering taking it on.