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Dental college performs ‘waste audit’ for sustainability

BY ARIANA WITT | APRIL 15, 2011 7:20 AM

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Under a white canopy tent on a cloudy, windy Thursday, Julie Reynolds was up to her elbows in trash. The smell of stale coffee grounds filled the air as she ripped open black trash bags, spilling dirty paper cups, banana peels, and other waste onto white tabletops.

Reynolds, a fourth-year dental student in the University of Iowa College of Dentistry, spent her morning in a white protective suit and gloves, sifting through used blue gowns, latex gloves, and patients’ bibs outside the UI Dental Science Building.

“Dentistry is such a wasteful profession,” said Reynolds, one of two student leaders for the dental school’s Go Green Committee. “I think it’s easy to just kind of forget and get so involved with your clinic work that you’re not aware of your environmental impact.”

The school’s Thursday “waste audit” — involving students, faculty, and staff — aimed to help decrease the amount of waste they produce. The group combed through large bins of trash bags collected from four floors and three office spaces to see what the city could recycle.

“The goal is really to get better all the time,” said David Johnsen, the dean of the dental college. “The big thing we want to do is lessen our environmental footprint and have less go to the landfills.”

Thursday’s event marked the college’s second audit. Officials held the first in 2008 to assess sustainability efforts. In 2006, the college averaged roughly 180 tons of waste, said Dave Jackson, an assistant to the associate vice president for Facilities Management. Now, the college’s output is around 146 tons.

“We’re finding fewer redeemable cans and bottles compared with last time, but that’s showing the sustainable behavior inside the college with faculty, students, and staff improving,” Jackson said.

Following the event, recyclable products were transported to City Carton Recycling, a privately owned recycling center in Iowa City that works with the UI Office of Sustainability.

Ann Synan, a patient representative for the dental school, said the college is using biodegradable utensils in eating areas and recycling disposal gowns for clinical students, which were once considered trash by the college.

More UI departments and colleges should take part in such audits every couple of years, said Liz Christiansen, the university’s director of sustainability.

“We think waste audits are a great way to identify opportunities to increase recycling,” she said.

UI senior Caroline Mills, the president of Chi Epsilon, joined members of the Honors fraternity and dental students in the trash inspection. Mills said the group volunteered its time as part of its semester sustainability project.

“I think this is something we could take back to the College of Engineering and see if [waste] is something engineering could improve on,” the civil-engineering major said.

UI President Sally Mason signed the Sustainability Partnership Program with the Environmental Protection Agency on Oct. 29, 2010, which outlined seven environmental goals for the university by 2020. Goals included decreasing UI waste production by 60 percent and increasing opportunities for students to learn about sustainability.

Reynolds said a waste audit for Burge Residence Hall is slated for April 22.

“I hope with these audits we’re planting the seeds in the minds of students early so they can be aware of their impact,” she said.


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