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‘Waste not, want not’ not living in UI dorms

BY MAGGIE PETERS | MAY 15, 2009 7:30 AM

Waste production, an area usually unaffected by the ups and downs of the economy, is experiencing an unprecedented downturn after steadily increasing since the 1960s.

This year is the first time residential-waste volume has dropped this low in the history of record keeping, said James Thompson, the president of Waste Business Journal, an industry research and analysis journal.

“The numbers we are seeing truly show the magnitude of this recession,” he said. “People are clearly consuming much less now, which shows up in the garbage industry faster than even the federal government can tabulate.”

But despite the national trend of lower consumption, UI students are disposing more waste in the residence-hall marketplaces.

The amount of compost from leftovers in the Burge and Hillcrest shows students are consuming more than last year, said Greg Black, University Housing’s director of residential dining.

While students are throwing away more food, the more dramatic national decrease in waste is coming from residential accumulations, an area that has steadily increased each year since the 1960s, Thompson said.

Residential waste increased from 191 million tons in 1991 to 277 million in 2007 — each year slightly higher than the previous, according to Waste Business Journal.

“It is sort of astonishing by itself with an increase in environmental awareness that we’ve seen numbers rise each year, but if you look in your own pantry, you see all these disposables that just increase waste,” he said.

But in 2008, residential waste dropped to 274 million tons. And in the same year, total waste accumulation in the United States was 365 million tons, a drop from 369 million in 2007.

The numbers are expected to fall even lower this year, Thompson said.

He noted the amount of commercial waste — such as business refuse and construction debris — is also seeing impressive drops.

Black wasn’t sure of the exact reason the UI differs from the national trend, but he cited a hike in non-residential dining contracts and after-dark food purchases as possible reasons.

“Students are becoming more aware of late-night food and are taking advantage of it,” he said.
Late-night food sales in the dorms — which have grown since the program’s start three years ago— are up approximately 30 percent this year, Black said.

The compost accumulated from the dorm marketplaces usually adds up to around 54 tons a year, but despite environmental education and awareness, those numbers have increased again this year, Black said. He could not yet provide this year’s numbers, he said.


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