On Tuesday, October 22 more than 200 Capilano University students will participate in Cap’s fifth campus waste audit. Students from environmental geography, anthropology and archaeology, outdoor recreation and business courses will work in collaboration with the Facilities department, the EarthWorks committee, the Campus Sustainability Network and Smithrite Ltd. to sort through one day of campus waste.

What is a waste audit?
A waste audit is a survey of what an individual, business or institution throws away.

Why is it important?
There is growing concern over space required for landfills, air pollution associated with incinerators and the increasing amount of wasted food and plastic pollution in our marine environments. What are the social, environmental and economic costs of our throw-away society?

What are our objectives?
We aim to raise awareness about waste habits on campus and to incorporate these results into our waste management practices. We are working towards fulfilling our campus sustainability commitment to waste reduction through student engagement and bringing the theme of waste into classrooms across the campus.

Why are university campus waste audits important?
Through their mission statements, teaching and research, resources and connections, universities have tremendous power and opportunity to serve as role models.

As environmental educator David Orr says: “No institutions in modern society are better able to catalyze the necessary transition (to a sustainable world) than schools, colleges and universities. They have access to the leaders of tomorrow and, through alumni, the leaders of today. They have buying and investment power. They are widely respected; consequently, what they do matters to the wider public.”

The integration of waste audits into the curriculum is aligned with the greater recognition that experiential learning is necessary. Student-focused learning has student experiences at the heart of learning – incorporating a waste audit into course work provides this opportunity. Student initiation of and participation in sustainability projects on campus is vital from an educational perspective.

Shriberg and Harris (2012) write: “…deep institutional sustainability requires the active involvement and leadership of students.”

Universities also produce a tremendous amount of waste due to their large physical footprint, their complex infrastructure, food services, vehicle fleets, energy use and the number of people they serve. A waste audit is an opportunity to guide the improvement of waste management practices.

What have we learned so far?
Our previous waste audits show that the main components of our waste are organics, paper and plastics. Composters and organics collection on campus has resulted in a 10% decrease in our organics. Paper towell collection in washrooms and kitchens has reduced paper waste by 5%. Better labelling and location of refundables bins have led to a small decrease in plastic bottles.

What are we working on this year?
Our last waste audit revealed that 87 lbs. of paper coffee cups were thrown out on campus in just one day. Several student projects are focused on promoting the use of reusable containers. Wasted food (food that is still edible) accounts for a large amount of our organics waste. Groups of students are working with the Campus Food Strategy group to quantify and reduce the amount of wasted food from the cafeteria.

What do students think of the waste audit?
“…An event where students and instructors come together to experience and learn, in a demonstrative way, about campus waste.”

–Yvonne Choi, environmental geography student

“The fall waste audit of 2012 was an experience I will never forget. From sorting through my campus’ waste to feeling like I really made a difference.”
– Michael Christianson, environmental geography student

Come by and visit the waste audit tomorrow! We’ll be sorting from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. behind the Sportsplex.

For a preview of tomorrow’s event, check out the waste audit video. Learn more about Sustainability at Cap U.

Submitted by Cheryl Schreader, instructor, Geography department

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