Editorial: Waste audit shows new ways to recycle


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A team of University of Iowa students and faculty sorted through a day’s worth of garbage on April 4. The trash — from Burge and Daum Residence Halls —  helped the group collect data that will help the UI Office of Sustainability better understand how students handle their waste.

The previous waste audit, held in Burge in 2011, found that students had thrown away 361.4 pounds of trash, including recyclable, non-recyclable, and organic waste. The April 4 audit found only 208.2 pounds of waste, but it seems that recycling rates have held steady at the UI in the last year and a half.

The audit found that 36 percent of the April 4 waste was recycled — down a little from 42 percent recycled in November 2011 — while the rest was made up of organic waste (30 percent) and trash (33 percent).

It is impossible to use such limited data to come to any conclusion about upward or downward trends in recycling on campus, but the data do indicate that recycling programs alone may not be enough to meet the university’s goal of 60 percent waste diversion.

Currently, the Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center takes in about 125,000 tons of trash every year, though a vast majority of the garbage — approximately 80 percent — could have been recycled or composted.

According to the UI Sustainability Office’s 2020 Vision plan, which was announced in 2010, the university wants to keep 60 percent of its trash out of Iowa City’s landfill by the year 2020. Given that the April 4 waste audit found that about 63 percent of Burge and Daum’s waste is either organic or unrecyclable, it is clear that recycling programs alone will not achieve 60 percent diversion.

The answer, it seems, is to increase composting efforts to divert organic waste that need not be sent off to the landfill.

Already, the university has something of a composting pilot program underway in the Hillcrest Marketplace. In August 2012, Hillcrest received a brand-new food pulper — an ingenious, $58,000 machine that grinds up dining-hall food leftovers, presses all the water out, recycles that water, and spits out an easily compostable mush that the university sends off to become fertilizer.

Both the Burge Marketplace and the IMU compost their food waste, but the university would do well to expand the pulper initiative to further reduce waste and boost efficiency.

These existing composting programs are great, but even after the pulpers are expanded, there is still a large amount of organic waste being thrown away outside the dining halls, as the April 4 trash audit indicated.

To solve this problem, the UI Sustainability Office could expand its composting program to include post-consumer food waste; this change, according the Sustainability Office’s website, could divert up to 350 tons of food waste from the landfill every year.

Such a program could be implemented by simply offering an organic-waste bin alongside the current trash cans and recycling bins available all over the campus.

If the university expects to meet its ambitious goal of 60 percent diversion by the end of the decade, it will have to expand its efforts to reduce organic waste beyond the school’s dining halls.

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