Waste audit finds plenty to recycle at SFU

November 29, 2007

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By Stuart Colcleugh

Heather Nyberg and her classmates turned more than a few heads this month as they stomped about Convocation Mall at SFU’s Burnaby campus, dumping out garbage bags and inspecting their contents.

But it was all for the sake of raising awareness about waste at SFU. Nyberg and seven members of her Sustainable Community Development 301 class were conducting their own informal waste audit, with Facilities Management’s permission.

They emptied three large plastic bags to determine just what percentage of the refuse was recyclable, what could be composted and what was, well, garbage.

"We weighed each pile of goods," says Nyberg, a program assistant with SFU’s international development office who is pursuing a one-year post-baccalaureate degree in sustainable development through the university’s Centre for Sustainable Community Development.

"And I would estimate that only 20 per cent of the waste was actual garbage. We’re now doing an analysis of the results as part of a larger Zero Waste presentation we’re preparing for Sustainable SFU, which will assist them in providing environmental policy recommendations to the university administration."

Aside from conducting an experiment, the class was also trying to prove a point: "There just aren’t enough recycling bins that can hold everything," says Nyberg. "Plus we’d like to see separate recycling bins for plastics and paper, like people have at home, and have them all over campus.

"We also encourage SFU to implement a compost system. UBC and other universities have them and it would help with a lot of the waste. Because we noticed that a large proportion of the garbage was leaves."

The smelly investigation was also a crowd-gatherer. "A lot of people stopped to ask what we were doing," says Nyberg, "and we were handing out questionnaires on waste consumption and recycling and how we’re doing and how we could improve."

There’s plenty of room for improvement, she says, and not just outside. "My lunchroom doesn’t have any recycling at all and I bet that’s typical throughout the university. We can all do better."


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