BY TIFFANY WOODS
(Webster Groves, Feb. 24, 2011) Dressed in white Tyvek sanitary suits, members of the Webster Students for Environmental Sustainability (WSES) jumped into dumpsters in the rain and waded through the trash in search of bags of garbage last Saturday.
The WSES performed a waste audit of the campus, pulling samples of garbage from every dumpster on campus, bringing it to the parking garage, sorting through it and taking inventory. A waste audit allows the university to assess how much of each type of garbage is being thrown awayand how much of that garbage could have been recycled.
“(It will) tell us how much we can recycle more, how we can do a better job, what we can do to be a more self-sustaining university and then ultimately raise more awareness on campus,” said Jeff Depew, advisor to WSES.
Waste collection stopped for two days prior to the audit to give a fuller sample of what gets thrown out on campus. Ten percent of what was in the dumpsters was taken for inventory. After transporting the sample back to the basement of the parking garage, the garbage bags were sorted into type of waste, such as food, plastics, yard waste, recyclable paper, yard waste, recyclable paper, non-recyclable paper and so on, and then weighed to determine how much of each is in the university’s dumpsters.
The results of the audit, which will be available in a few weeks, will show what the university is throwing away and what it could be doing differently. A large amount of recyclable material was found in the process of sorting, which the group put on display in the Quad as a visual reminder of what students and staff on campus waste.
Katie Mike Smaistrla, a botanical garden worker, conducts waste audits from the Earth Way Center (a part of the sustainability division of the St. Louis Botanical Gardens) and helped coordinate the audit at Webster.
“We want to see what we’re actually throwing away, so we know what to target in terms of recycling education,” she said. “Numbers are power in this situation. It’s all about data collecting.”
Webster last performed waste audits in 2006 and 2001. This year’s effort was unique because it was primarily student-led.
Also new this year is Webster’s participation in the RecycleMania Tournament, an eight-week national collegiate competition to see which school can reduce their waste the most and have the highest rates of recycling. Webster is entered in the benchmark division but not in the competition, which means Webster is only reporting results, not competing.
“Webster is supporting this and is very interested in the results,” Depew said.
To continue to monitor the waste produced during RecycleMania, there will be scales on the garbage trucks for two weeks to weigh the total amount of garbage. Items already recycled before Saturday were not included in the audit.
“We didn’t do the recycling dumpsters,” said Chelse Williams, a senior religious studies major and secretary to WSES. “We would really like to see the recycling dumpsters increase in waste.”
The audit took more than four hours and turned up such unexpected items as a decorative reindeer, textbooks, a microwave and a laptop. Grounds supervisor Judy Vogler attributed the push to make changes on campus to the student involvement.
“To have 15 people come in on a Saturday and who are willing to sort through trash — you can’t ask for more commitment than that,” Vogler said.