DC Waste Sort outlines issues, shows progress

UVM students are standing in the cold, wearing bio-suits and going through your garbage.The occasion was the second annual Davis Center Waste Sort – an event put on and run by UVM Recycling and Waste management along with UVM Eco-Reps, students who work to promote environmental practices in the residence halls. The purpose is to sort one day’s worth of garbage from the Davis Center to determine how much of the waste is misplaced. The results showed improvement. A day’s worth of garbage contained 32 percent compostable items, down 20 percent from last year’s Waste Sort. Corey Berman of the UVM Recycling and Waste Management program is happy with the results. “In one year’s time, we’ve ramped up our efforts to show a marked increase [in recycling] and we now have an even smaller waste stream ending up in the landfill,” Berman said.Berman also pointed out that the decomposition process of organic material creates methane gas 25 percent more potent than carbon, so “getting this stuff out of a landfill makes a big difference in terms of green house gas emissions,” he said. The University currently generates roughly five tons of compost per week. Every day, All Cycle Waste, a recycling food and organics hauling company, collects the compost from loading docks located throughout campus. The compost is transported to Intervale, which converts it to soil sold to local farmers. If Intervale deems the compost too contaminated it is simply dumped as trash. “They contact us, and ask us to step it up a notch – then we have to ask ourselves, what do we have to focus on? Where’s the fall off?” Berman said. Berman is quick to note that he hasn’t received that sort of call in a long time. He cites great efforts by Kate Strotmeyer, Davis Center marketing coordinator, as well as students and staff.Despite the improvement, the University still faces challenges in waste sortment. Success requires coordination between waste managers, students and kitchen staff.The Davis Center presents a particular challenge as a high traffic area because vendors use different packaging products and come in with off-campus materials.”The separation [of waste] in the Marketplace is a challenge,” as a result of “the complexity of packaging,” Erica Spiegel, UVM’s Solid Waste and Recycling manager, said.Spiegel cited sushi as an example; the box contains a Styrofoam bottom, a recyclable top and plastic greenery mixed in with the food. To reduce waste, she stresses the importance of the Marketplace purchasing food in simpler and more eco-friendly packaging.Efficient waste management is not only environmentally conscious, but also economically sound. “It’s beneficial for the University’s bottom line, especially in these hard times,” Berman said.He considers the Davis Center a good focal point for the environmental effort. The LEED building is a “first opportunity, a hot spot.””If we make sure we’re on the right page there, the routine can flow out to the rest of campus,” he said.The Davis Center was constructed with the environment in mind. There are many locations within the building where students can recycle or compost if they choose. Recently, Eco-Reps have been stationed at the trash bins to bring more awareness to students throwing away their items. Three-dimensional signs are posted above the different bins to lesson the confusion over which item belongs where. Spiegel’s goal is to promote a “zero waste” philosophy, but ultimately, progress is “going to have to come from the students.””Education is the main goal,” Berman said. “The operational infrastructure is intact. We need people to be enthusiastic about recycling and waste management.”The Eco-Rep program, which help organized the waste sort, works to spread excitement around campus by interacting with students and staff on a personal basis.”We’ve gone from 25 [Eco-Reps last year] to 37 this year,” Eco-Rep Coordinator Christina Erickson said. “That’s one for every residence hall in the building, one for the Davis Center and one that works on off-campus issues.””The whole goal of the program is to work closely with peers in the resident halls about the things that students have the most control over in their lives in regard to sustainable living practices,” Erickson said.”I think there are still some of those pretty basic behaviors that we can make good strides on, and that can make effective change,” she said.