Taking out the Trash

The 11th annual Waste Audit at Capilano University reveals a need to further educate students and staff on proper waste management procedures

Jayde Atchison // Staff Writer 

 Capilano University hosted its 11th annual waste audit on Mar. 10 in the parking lot beside the Sports Complex. Each year, various faculties partner up with Earthworks and sort through one day’s worth of waste on campus. This year, all the campus’ waste from Monday, Mar. 9 was sorted through. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are typically the busier days at the university, and yet the mixed pile of garbage bags were spread across two parking spots and stood above waist height. 

Prior to the event, professors from biology, geography, business and other departments advertise the audit and recruit students to help sort through the garbage for a period of one and a half hours. “We’re really trying to encourage interdisciplinary connections,” said biology professor Thomas Flower, “To recognize that environmental stewardship is not specific to any particular discipline.” 

Volunteers are layered in protective full-body suits, gloves and masks to make the process as clean as possible. Despite the cold rain, students showed up in large groups and were discussing the contents found in each bag. The purpose of the student involvement is to showcase how the university is handling its waste management and allow insight into what goes into each bin on a daily basis. 

For Sustainability Engagement Facilitator Emilie Ralston, the goal of the annual audit is for students to better understand that out of sight is not out of mind. “Just because they toss their garbage into one of the waste streams it doesn’t mean that it disappears,” Ralston explains. “It still has to be dealt with and it takes a lot of transportation, energy and resources to process and it’s very costly as taxpayers and to the environment.”

The Greentainer program was implemented by CapU to enable sustainable options for students and staff to enjoy meals from the cafeteria. After each use, people can return the containers to their designated bins to be washed thoroughly and used again. For some students, the fact that the containers need to be returned and reused may not be clear, as two green containers were found in the trash, only to end up in the landfill. If there’s an average of two containers ending up in the landfill a day, an estimated 730 containers a year would become single-use plastic. When people toss their containers into the various waste bins, it defeats the intention of the program, and creates the undesirable outcome of more plastic ending up in landfills.  

CapU students who attended high school in North Vancouver may be familiar with zero-waste stations in every hallway. However, many CapU students have approached their instructors to let them know that it’s their first time experiencing multiple bins. Capilano University tries to encourage students to recycle and manage the campus waste, but little education is given across the faculties. Implementing a recycling program can only work if everyone on campus participates. “If a few people put the wrong waste in the wrong bin then that waste is thrown into landfill rather than recycling,” said Flower. “So just a few people can undo all the good work of everybody else.” 

When one student throws their Clif Bar wrapper into the organics bin, it contaminates the bag and everything gets dumped into the landfill, making the organics bin useless. Whether it’s ignorance or blatant disregard for the environment, the university should provide basic waste management education to students across all disciplines. Perhaps, during the first week of each semester students can be given a rundown of what is allowed in each bin and the impacts of incorrect recycling. 

One organics bag contained around 20 partially sliced cucumbers, still wrapped in their plastic. Not only is this a waste of edible food, but the plastic wrap left on is also not compostable—instead they are considered contaminated and part of the general landfill. If the employees were to remove the plastic off each cucumber, the organics bin would remain compostable and would result in less waste in the landfills. 

These vegetables most likely did not come from students, but one of the food services provided on campus (Tim Hortons, Subway or the cafeteria). In addition to educating students and staff on the importance of recycling, Capilano University may have an obligation to discuss how to further educate food service staff with Chartwells to help reduce contaminated waste. 

We have been taught through media channels and on bin signage that to-go cups should go into the recycling. In the District of North Vancouver, people are able to recycle things like coffee cups in their blue bin at home, but institutions are not allowed to put them into their recycling. All the coffee cups have a lining which prevents them from going into the regular recycling. “We would love to see the District of North Vancouver start to accept those cups from institutions as well as from private garbages,” said Flower.  
Students are able to learn more about the waste audit data through updated signs above the zero waste stations, and through contacting members of Earthworks at sustainability@capilanou.ca

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