Waste Characterization Study Shows 68% of Items Thrown Away Can be Recycled or Composted

Wednesday, February 18 2009

Feb.18, 2009 Note to Media: Complete waste characterization results are available at www.uisc.uidaho.edu/2009_waste_characterization_data.xls. Written by Jeannie Matheison MOSCOW, Idaho – Waste characterizations, the process of sorting garbage into its component parts, can tell you a lot about a community. How many disposable cups do people throw away each day? How much of our garbage has the potential to be recycled? Over three days, University of Idaho Sustainability Center graduate research assistant Tom Nagawiecki, a master’s student in Environmental Science, led a waste characterization study of 10 solid waste dumpsters on the university's campus. "We looked at many buildings on campus: College of Natural Resources, Morrill Hall, Theophilius Tower, Brink-Phinney Hall, Niccolls, Hartung Theater, McConnell, the Library, Sixth Street Greenhouse and Memorial Gym," said Nagawiecki. Some 200 students enrolled in the "Field Activities in Environmental Science 102" course emptied the contents of dumpsters, and sorted the materials on large tarps into 16 categories of recyclable materials, organic compostable materials, electronic waste, hazardous waste and solid waste. Once sorted, a total of 2,141 pounds or .97 metric tons of materials were weighed. The results of this waste characterization are staggering. Thirty-eight percent of what individuals throw away can be recycled using the current University of Idaho recycling programs. An additional 30 percent of what is thrown away can be composted. Recycling or composting 68 percent of the university’s waste stream has the potential to save tens of thousands of dollars in solid waste disposal costs and reduce our carbon footprint. "In order for the University of Idaho to reduce its environmental impact and ultimately reach climate neutrality, we need to understand our current waste stream so we can reduce the generation and disposal of waste," said Nagawiecki. For the past year Sustainability Center Director Darin Saul, has taken a closer look at University of Idaho recycling and solid waste systems with the objective of maximizing recycling, initiating composting, and most importantly, increasing waste minimization efforts on campus. "The first priority needs to be not creating waste. After that, we need to recycle and compost as much of what remains as possible. Reducing our waste stream saves money and reduces our impact on the climate. Saving money on waste is important – in budget cutting times, reducing your waste will save a co-worker’s job," said Saul. A list of recyclable materials in the University of Idaho recycling system, including their weights and percentages of the total waste characterization study, is available at www.uisc.uidaho.edu/2009_waste_characterization_data.xls. The mission of the Sustainability Center is to create an active culture of student responsibility for sustainability on campus and in the community through environmental stewardship, collaboration across disciplines, entrepreneurial innovation, and community service that enhances understanding and utilization of sustainable design and lifestyle. In addition to student led initiatives, the Sustainability Center facilitates a multitude of academic committees and working groups that invite broad participation by partnering with faculty, staff, students and the greater community implementing sustainable initiatives and tangible outcomes. In 2009 we are advancing seven interconnected issues: waste minimization, recycling, reducing food waste on campus, regional food systems, consumer behavior, energy conservation, and greenhouse gas reduction. # # # About the University of Idaho Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit www.uidaho.edu. Media Contact: Darin Saul, University of Idaho Sustainability Center, (208) 885-0124, dsaul@uidaho.edu

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals, and competes in the Western Athletic Conference. For information, visit www.uidaho.edu.