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!

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