How far has the campus come in diverting recyclables and compostables from its waste stream to help the environment? You have to dig through the trash to really tell.
And thats just what folks from the UW Recycling & Solid Waste office plan to do from 8:30 a.m. to about 12: 30 p.m. Wednesday, April 13, in the annex alongside the Bryants Building.
Its called the Trash-In 2011 and the campus community is invited to stop by and take a look.
On that morning, instead of tossing trash from eight administrative and classroom buildings on upper campus into dumpsters, Custodial Services will set aside the rubbish — about a ton in all — to be delivered to the Bryants Building instead.
Then about two dozen volunteers will conduct what Recycling & Solid Waste calls a “mini sort,” to learn whats in there, and see how well the campus community is sorting its refuse into compost and recycling bins.
“What you find in there is amazing,” said Kristin Elko, program coordinator for Recycling and Solid Waste. “Last year there was three-quarters of a giant chocolate cake. We hold our own unofficial challenges over who can find the most interesting, strange or unappetizing items.”
But really, its not about finding weird stuff or laying blame, Johnson and Elko say — which is why the buildings being sampled are not named. Its just a look at how much of the waste stream is diverted from the landfill to composting and recycling — a number thats been going up over the years — and a reminder that we can do better.
Johnson said that rate was 35 percent in 2004, but recycling and composting efforts brought that up to 56 percent for the first Trash-In, in 2010. “At the end of this calendar year we were trending about 58 percent. The goal for 2011 is 60 percent.”
Elko said the event shares the same name as one held at the UW before the first Earth Day celebrations in 1970, but is not the same. At that first Trash-In 41 years back, trash was collected from around campus and separated into categories, and materials were returned to processors for them to consider beginning recycling programs.
The new Trash-In event was started last year, 40 years after the first — and theyre planning to make it an annual event, Elko said.
Perhaps the most notable change from the old days is composting, Johnson said. There was no significant composting at all on campus in 2004, he said, but by the fiscal year 2010 the campus annual total reached 895 tons. Thats a lot of tea bags, coffee filters, food remnants and even coffee and drink containers, since most are compostable on campus these days.
Johnson said such measures are made campuswide every few years in whats called a Waste Characterization Study, last conducted in 2004. He said the Trash-In is designed to be a fun event that also “generates buzz” about recycling and composting. Also assisting for the Trash-In is Nanda Guajardo, a program coordinator with Recycling & Solid Waste.
The Trash-In is a precursor to Earth Day, April 22, which will be celebrated with a number of lunchtime events on Red Square and elsewhere. The trash-sorting events, Johnson said, show that the UW is constantly improving its recycling and composting numbers.
“Were doing a pretty good job,” he said. “But theres still room for improvement.”