Waste on campus: Kick it to the curb

By in Opinions

Starbucks cups, yet another dead pen, those sweaty lab gloves and a pita that wasn’t as good as you thought it would be — these are all examples of items that wind up in the trash at the University of Saskatchewan.

The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System estimates that 0.39 tons of waste were produced per campus user at the U of S in the last reported year, which ran from May 2015 to April 2016 — a 34 per cent increase from the baseline reported year, which ran from May 2012 to April 2013. Despite sustainability initiatives, waste production is increasing. Who should bear responsibility for this unsustainability?

The university’s single-stream recycling program aims to divert recyclable material from the landfill. The revamped signage program, launched in late 2016, aims to encourage proper use of single-stream recycling bins. The program was also expanded to include paper cups as recyclable materials.

Other recycling programs at the university are the nitrile-glove-recycling pilot program and pen recycling with the Environmental Studies Students’ Association.

ESSA, located in Kirk Hall 212, accepts your pens and pen caps, wrecked mechanical pencils, old highlighters and permanent markers to recycle. Their office hours for term one are posted on Facebook — so next time you clean out your pencil case, you know where to go.

These are steps in the right direction, but recycling is only one part of the classic three R’s of sustainability. Reduction and reuse are vital, and students need to take the lead.

Odili Obi works for the Facilities Management Division as waste-prevention co-ordinator and believes that the largest barrier to waste reduction is on the human side, not the technical side.

“The technical side is dealing with the waste that happens, the background work. Human behaviour has to change to prevent waste from being produced to begin with,” Obi said.

How? Bring your own water bottle, and get reusable containers for your bagged lunch or your leftovers. Double-side your print jobs, and only print what you’ve really got to print.

Decline the near-useless items that are offered at eating establishments — paper sleeves, take-out containers, a cornucopia of napkins and plastic straws. You’re not a child, so drink your drink without a straw.

Bring your own reusable coffee cup for a 10-cent discount at most places, or treat yourself to a sit-down with a ceramic mug at Louis’. Do your part in making it socially unacceptable for your garbage-island friends to come to class with that Tim’s cup every day — call them out on that trash.

Students often take the lead when it comes to addressing issues on campus, so what kind of change should we push for? The last waste audit data available from the U of S showed that recycling rates are increasing, but the majority of materials headed for the landfill are compostable organic matter.

Composting on campus is the next hurdle — I believe strides will only be made if the student body advocates for them. Composting food waste in common spaces, such as libraries and cafeterias, would require a high level of institutional effort through waste audits, co-operation between university departments and educational programs to ensure proper use.

Jasmin Parker, a third-year environment and society student who worked with the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council over the summer, says that the university should take a leadership role in composting initiatives.

“The entire City of Saskatoon has failed in regard to composting,” Parker said.

Parker points to the small percentage of households that subscribes to the voluntary green-bin program as an example of this failure.

“That fact shouldn’t absolve the university from holding itself to a better standard. If we’re waiting for human behaviour to change before technical services catch up, that’s a bureaucratic response that halts concrete actions,” Parker said.

We’ve got good intentions, but to excel in sustainability at the U of S, we need to try a little harder, both individually and institutionally.

Sarah Foley

Graphic: Jaymie Stachyruk