Garbage is gross. No surprise there. It’s also, for our purposes, incredibly useful. So at the end of August, three of us spent a couple hours sorting through 5 big blue bins of recyclables, and recorded the results. This was intended to be a preliminary audit, just to see what sort of plastic materials we would encounter and in what volumes. For reference, common energy’s 2014 waste audit was about 20 times bigger than ours, with 400kg sorted, to our 20kg. Regardless, sorting recyclable containers was super helpful for insight into material flows and waste habits of students on campus.
This was the first audit of UBC’s recycling stream where we sorted out plastics by their Resin Identification Code. 12 bins (7 plastic, 5 other):
- Aluminum Cans
- Liquid Waste
- PS & Styrofoam
- Other (Mostly PLA)
HERE’S WHAT WE LEARNED
CONTENTS OF THE CONTAINERS RECYCLING… SO IT’S DISCONCERTING THAT MORE THAN 50% WAS COMPOST AND CONTAMINATION [RED PART]. HOPEFULLY OUR SAMPLE SIZE WAS TOO SMALL AND THIS IS NOT INDICATIVE OF THE GENERAL TREND. FORTUNATELY, THERE WAS A BUNCH OF USEFUL PLASTIC THAT WE FOUND AS WELL:
- 15.3% PET–MOSTLY DRINK BOTTLES.
- 5.1% PP–BOTTLE CAPS, SPOONS AND BLACK SUSHI CONTAINERS
- 5.2% PLA–CORN PLASTIC, FOUND IN FOOD CONTAINERS AND SMOOTHIE CUPS
“CONTAINER” TREAM CONTENTS BY VOLUME
We learned that 44% of the recycling contents was actually compost. In other words, we need to start rinsing our sushi containers, and separating the bottom from the top plastic bit, before tossing them. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE) or #1 is the most common form of plastic. Totalling 15.3% of the waste, the things made from PETE include water bottles and the plastic bits of sushi containers.
Even though we went almost full hazmat, courtesy of our close friends at Common Energy, we could have used a few additional barriers between us and the gooey plastic.
- Shoe covers
- Hair elastics
- Noseplugs OR white facemasks + essential oil drops for aromatic delight
There were a couple more lessons specific to our waste audit method too. We needed an extra bin for unlabelled, mystery plastic. There were a few large black baking-sheet-like pieces that we found, probably from one of the kitchens. They seemed like PolyStyrene, but without labelling we couldn’t be sure. Next time items like that will go in the mystery bin.
Scissors would have been handy for cutting the cap-ring off of bottles. Most lids are made of PolyPropylene (PP, #5), but some are HDPE… either way, this will be a big source of contamination in the PETE stream unless we cut them off and sort them along with the caps!
Finally, we have to get a mop & bucket (or a Swiffer). Garbage juice kept gushing onto the tarp and we had to improvise with some toilet paper to quell the flow.
Who knows, maybe next time we will even get some lovely essential oils to drip onto our face masks, to cover the odour.
Qoola is a frozen yoghurt vendor is the UBC Student Center (The Nest). Their spoons have no label, and when called for questioning they assured us that they recycle the spoons themselves, but only when deposited in recycling boxes in their store. Problem is, most people take their yoghurt and walk, then recycle the spoons into the regular container waste stream. We still haven’t the foggiest idea what type of plastic these are made from.