Waste Audit Measures Campus Recycling Push

On a recent postcard-perfect day on front campus at Georgia College, you could see students tossing Frisbees, taking quick naps on the grass or chatting with friends on the way to class. One group of students, however, found another use entirely for this sunny, warm afternoon: digging through big bags of trash.

It’s called a comprehensive campus waste audit, a fancy name for a dirty job. Students in the Environmental Sciences Club ripped open (“dissected” is the academic term) garbage bags collected at buildings across campus and dumped the contents on a tarp. Then they proceeded to identify and separate items that could have been recycled instead of trashed.

“Every so often we need to dig through our waste and see what’s in there because recycling saves the university a lot of money and it supports the environment,” said Dr. Doug Oetter, an environmental science professor and advisor for the environmental science club.

Oetter says past campus waste audits have shown 66 percent of what’s thrown away at Georgia College could have been recycled instead. He hopes this year’s audit will show a new recycling program on campus is making a difference.

“I believe it’s something every student should see, they should see what we’re going through to sort their trash,” said senior environmental science major Matthew Swords as he sorted discarded paper, coffee cups, plastic bottles and the occasional bag of sunflower seed hulls into recycling containers.

A little more than a year ago, Georgia College ramped up its recycling efforts as part of a new campus sustainability plan. The university removed many garbage cans and replaced them with recycling bins. There’s also been a push by the university’s new Sustainability Council to promote recycling among students, staff and faculty. This year's campus waste audit is the first since many of the new programs took effect.

Sophomore Emma Brodzik, assistant director for environmental affairs on the Student Government Association, says SGA is also working to get students to think recycling first. While she believes the university is doing a good job of making recycling more convenient for students, Brodzik says there’s a “disconnect” because many students are confused about what items can be recycled and where recycling points are located.

Brodzik says small steps, such as better signage and more recycling bins in high traffic areas, could make a big difference in the amount of waste that makes its way into the campus recycling stream. She would also like to see the university take a “more comprehensive” approach to educating students about the benefits of going green.