Thursday, February 14, 2013

Garbology: Trash-sorting event reveals wasteful habits

By Ashley Gill, Guest Writer

On the way to class last Friday, students and staff members got a whiff of something other than winter air on upper campus. Pacific Lutheran University’s sustainability department gave the city garbage trucks the morning off. Members of the department set up a blue tarp layered with countless trash bags in the center of PLU’s Red Square to be sorted for its Garbology event.

This is the first large-scale Garbology event Sustainability has done. Before, when only doing residence halls and other buildings, the department found that around 80-90 percent of what was going into the trash could have been recycled or composted.

Student campaign coordinators for the sustainability department — junior Sara Patterson, ASPLU’s sustainability director, and senior Anna Pfohl, RHA’s sustainability director — came together to plan the event. Twenty-four hours worth of trash from all around campus was placed in Red Square and organized for everyone to see. The Garbology event kicked off Recycle-mania, a six-week competition among universities in Canada and the U.S to see who can reach the highest waste diversion rates — comparing how much people throw away to how much they are recycling.

Last year, PLU placed 15th in the competition with a 65-70 percent waste diversion rate. The goal for this year is to reach 80 percent diversion and rank in the top five.

The night before the event, students from the sustainability department scavenged through every waste bin and dumpster accessible on campus.

“It was a lot of fun raiding all the trash cans last night,” Pfohl said.

Volunteers and student employees of the sustainability department spent over seven hours sorting through peoples’ half-eaten protein bars, frozen meal boxes and mountains of paper towels that could have been recycled or composted rather than packed with items meant for the landfill. Prizes were awarded to students and staff members who dedicated five, 10 or 15 minutes to helping sort the trash. Campus staff members ranging from Campus Safety to Dining Services lent a hand in trash sorting.

“I think a lot of them [students] have really been surprised by the impact this has and how much they really are throwing away that doesn’t need to go there,” Patterson said.

The results of the event revealed that over 30 percent of what had been thrown away could have been put into compost, while over a quarter of it could have been recycled.

Two pairs of shoes, an entire red velvet cake, silverware, fresh fruit and even art were among the things that had been tossed out and added to the mass amounts of garbage to be taken to the dump. PLU’s waste travels 35 miles to the Tacoma landfill where it is compacted and then taken to Graham where it is put into the ground. Materials such as paper, plastic, cardboard and glass that are placed in the proper bins rather than the trash make a short trip to LeMay where they are recycled.

Also sorting through the mess was sophomore Gavin Miller who works for the sustainability department. Miller said he feels there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in regard to spreading awareness about what can be recycled.

When it comes to organizing trash in the correct bins on a daily basis, Miller said, “I think there’s also a lack of participation in it just because it’s garbage and people don’t want to mess with garbage.”

Future events include the Sustainability Olympics, a week-long event on campus featuring a different contest every night. Among the activities, a Jeopardy table will be stationed in the Anderson University Center every evening and an event in the Bike Co-op will award a bicycle as one of the prizes. As a final event, and to highlight the unveiling of PLU’s placement in the nationwide competition this year, Sustainability will be hosting a waste-free dinner and a movie that will be open to all students.