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Waste Audit

Sierra Youth Coalition Waste Audit - University of Saskatchewan Campus

Students at the University of Saskatchewan assess campus garbage and find that 95% of what is produced could be recycled or reduced! Your school's garbage can teach a lot about waste!

SYC waste audit On Friday, November 26, 2004, a group of students from the activist group, the Sierra Youth Coalition, performed a Waste Audit in a busy lunch area of the University of Saskatchewan campus. The trash entrails tell a story of unnecessary waste and clogged landfills, that 95% of the garbage could have been avoided by recycling or reducing. Charlie Clark interviewed Ferron Olynyk to find out more about the Sierra Youth Coalition's exploits.

What is the Sierra Youth Coalition?

We are an environmental group on campus affiliated with the national Sierra Youth coalition. Our main focus is sustainability on campus. We have been taking actions to try to move towards that. We are focused a lot on things at the U of S. We are open to anyone, we tend to wind up being all students. There have been high school students involved to, and we welcome anyone to join.

What gave you the idea to do a waste audit?

SYC has done three waste audits so far. It can be an effective way to demonstrate the proportions of garbage in a given area. This year we decided to do the waste audit on Buy Nothing Day, to raise awareness about the amount of waste associated with the consumerism of our times.

What is a waste audit?

What we did was we went through about 8 bags of garbage that had been thrown out in Lower Place Riel, one of the main food courts and gathering places on the University of Saskatchewan campus. We did over lunch hour when there were lots of people gathered and eating their lunches. We then "assessed" the garbage by breaking it down into four different categories: recyclables, compostables, necessary waste, and unnecessary waste. We broke it up into those four areas and then weighed it out in bags in order to determine how much of the garbage being thrown out could have been either reduced or recycled, and diverted from the landfill.

SYC waste audit

Unnecessary garbage is garbage that didn't need to be produced, like Styrofoam cups for example, which aren't necessary if people bring their own mugs, or little packets of ketchup that haven't been used but are still thrown out. Necessary garbage is any waste that can't be recycled, and essentially can't be avoided.

What were your findings?

The way it broke down was as follows:

Compost 21 pounds 1 bag 23%
Recyclable 35 pounds 4 bags 39%
Unecessary garbage 29 pounds 4 bags 32%
Actual Garbage 5 Pounds 1 Bag 5.5%

So you can see, we found that the necessary garbage made up only 5.5% of the total. The biggest category was recyclables, which was mostly paper, a lot of pizza boxes, and cans and bottles.

What are you going to do with the findings from your audit?

We want to work with the food service people and encourage them to reduce the amount of garbage that they use. We are going to draft our findings in the new year and make up a proposal with suggestions of things to do with the waste. For example, we want to encourage fast food places to stop putting every burger in a paper bag and little things like that. We hope that will lead into a greater proposal with more fundamental changes.

How do you think our waste is a symptom of problems we face in our society?

I think that people feel they don't have to deal with garbage after they throw it away, we don't see the link with the degradation of the earth. For a lot of people who don't care, if it is in their face, they get it more. I think landfills are awful for the things that seep into the ground and the land they displace. When there is garbage that can be recycled or composted it is disgusting that we keep throwing it away. It is incredibly necessary to do as much if we are going to preserve the earth. We can't just dump everything away. It makes the land unfertile - it is an expensive problem.

What were people's reactions?

Everybody who participated liked it a lot. Some people who were eating their lunch came up to the stage and actually sorted out their garbage as they threw it out. We didn't hear a lot from people passing by, but CTV news was there and they interviewed people who were watching, and people were pretty interested in it and thought it was a good thing to do.

What advice would you have for students who want to do this?

  • If you want to do a waste audit in your school, be in really good communication with the janitors and make sure they are on board.
  • Find out how you can help them to make their job easier.
  • Try also to get your principals and administration together.
  • Pick a time when people are around and eating.
  • Promote your results once you have done it, spread your findings.
  • Make up proposals for your administration and your food services based on your findings - to encourage them to do follow up.

Waste Audit Resources