Monday, April 26, 2010

KCI Waste Audit

I had my class do our final waste audit of the year. I hate plastic gloves, so I just get in there with bare hands.  Nothing icked me out until someone asked me, "What do I do with this?" and I took it without looking, and it was... dun dun da.... a cigarette pack!  I made involuntary "ew" noises as I removed the inner foil to put the boxboard in the recycling.

We separated all the garbage into recycling containers and clear garbage bags, then weighed each type of garbage separately.  Here's our final tally...

Compost:  We have 3 compost buckets out where people are supposed to be eating, but we can't put any out where they often eat even though they shouldn't.  So there was a lot of compost.  In September we weighed 11.4 pounds*, but this time it was 53.8 pounds.  Now the big part of that was two big heavy bags of yard waste that custodians were pitching.  This is an issue.  We're not supposed to ask custodians to do anything to help us because they're seriously understaffed, but how much more work is it to take yard waste to the composter instead of the garbage bin?  It's likely the same number of steps.  It's just one more thing to think about, though.  But surely we can solve this dilemma.  It's ironic because I need yard waste to layer with food waste, and we never have enough, so I bring it from home!  And the custodians just pitch it.  Funny that.  So three bins full plus two bags.  They all went into the compost bin.  Today anyway.  RETRACTION:  Apparently it's NOT the custodians at all - but we can't seem to find out where those two bags came from.  It could be student volunteers that need a bit more training. 
Recycling:  There are blue boxes for paper and white buckets for cans and bottles all over the school yet last September we found 112.5 pounds of recycling in the garbage.  Much of that was a pile of books someone had tossed - likely a teacher because many were dictionaries.  We cleaned them up and put them in the free store and they found better homes within a day.  This time we had 30.2 pounds of recycling.  Better by comparison, but still.  There were 20.2 pounds of bottles and cans which completely filled a big blue bin (bottles and cans are really light - 20 pounds is a lot), and 10.0 pounds of paper which almost overflowed one blue box.
Single-Use Cups:  Last September we tossed 5.4 pounds of them in one day.  That absolutely astounds me.  This time, 5.6 pounds.   Maybe I'll get the OneEarth kids to campaign at local Tims to try to get people to buy and use travel mugs.  They're less than $5, and you get cheaper coffee each time you use one.  In fact, if you use one every day, it works out to a free coffee every 14 days!!  That's better odds than you get with roll-up-the-rim campaigns.  I wonder if I could convince them to stand out at a Tims before school every morning for a week around earth day next year - just talking to people and trying to persuade them.  Or maybe this year yet.
Potential Green Bin Waste:  We applied to be part of the green bin pilot project.  If we get it, according to this one day of garbage, we'll be able to defer 17.8 pounds of garbage.  Last September it was 16.5 pounds.  This includes all the food waste that can't go in our compost - meats, oils, cheeses... and gross paper towels and kleenexes.  It was disheartening to see how much food people throw out.  For the parents out there, lots of complete lunches are going in the trash.  It'd be nice to set up some kind of "extra food" lunch program where people could take their lovingly-made lunches for other people to eat.  Untouched apples, oranges, and bananas, unopened granola bars and yogurts, perfectly wrapped sandwiches...  Hmmm...  there's got to be a way to save this stuff from the trash.  Maybe I'll just set up a little table with a sign that says, "I just can't eat all this - go for it!"  and instructions to leave unwanted food for the taking.  Like the free store, but with food.  I have a gut feeling there's some law or other that will stop this from happening, but it's easier to beg forgiveness than permission.
Packaging:  This is what I consider real garbage.  This is stuff that we can't do anything with because the materials to make it are mixed together in such a way that they can't be un-mixed and re-used or recycled, and we had bags and bags of the stuff.  Foil/plastic wrappers from granola bars, fruit-to-go, chocolate bars, chips, candy, and the like.  In September we had 80.4 pounds, and this time around it was 81.8 pounds.  Pretty consistent.  Consistently crappy!  80 pounds of wrappers that are each light as air is a truck-load of wrappers!  Well, six big bags anyway.  The only way we can prevent this is to convince parents not to buy the stuff.  But I'm guilty of that one.  I hate making lunches, and anything that makes it easier is going to happen.  We could also take the junk-food vending machines out of the schools.  If schools stopped selling junk to kids, we'd have less packaging in the garbage.  Some would walk to the store at lunch to buy crap, but at least they're getting exercise at the same time!
Other:  Cardboard is illegal to put in the landfill, but it's always in our garbage.  The big problem is the boxes our pizzas and similar stuff comes in.  And I included in this total all the bags used by the custodians because they don't dump one can into another, they take every bag out of every can every day.  That was over two pounds of bags on its own.  In total, last September we had 9.8 pounds, last week it was 12.6 pounds

All in all we reduced our garbage by 15% since September, but somehow I don't feel like celebrating.  We made a video about recycling and composting, and immediately I noticed a difference in the amount of compost in the bins.  Now it plays regularly.  We also put signs on garbage to remind people what NOT to put in there.  In the one day of waste auditing we took out 43% of our waste for composting or recycling.  If people could pay attention to where they're tossing their garbage, we could cut our landfill dumping by almost half!

Here's all the helpful students who learned how to sort garbage:
Tomorrow is the energy audit, and we'll weigh all the recycling - what actually gets put in there.

*I set the scales for pounds because I still don't have a feel for kilograms. They are meaningless to me.

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