Waste audit

Trash talkin’

Johnson County Community College students and employees recycle a lot of paper, plastic and aluminum cans.

But they could do more.

At least, that’s what a waste audit conducted by JCCC recycling manager Michael Rea and environmental science students in April suggests.

As part of the college’s Earth Days celebration, Rea and the students collected trash from 13 of the college’s buildings: one bag each from a classroom, hallway and office in each building; and one bag from a single-stream recycling bin in each building.

Their goal? To see what had been tossed in the trash that could have been recycled, and to learn how much trash was showing up in the single-stream recycling bins.

The good news is that only about 6 percent of the total weight of the waste placed in recycling bins should have gone into the trash.

Rea, who frequently sees used coffee cups that aren’t recyclable tossed in the recycling bins, was pleased by that. “It wasn’t as high as I might have thought,” he said.

But Rea was less pleased by what he and the students found as they picked through the items that had ended up in trash cans.

Altogether, about half of contents, or 49 percent by weight, could have been recycled, and another 15 percent could have been composted.

When Rea dug deeper into the trash data, he found that only about a third of the contents of the hallway trashcans, which are located side by side with the single stream recycling containers, could have been recycled. That suggests that the effort to make it easy to recycle by placing single stream recycling bins next to hallway trash cans is paying off.

Office and classroom trash cans, on the other hand, were overflowing with paper and plastic that could have been recycled: 51 percent of the contents of classroom trash cans could have been recycled, and a whopping 61 percent of the contents of office trash cans could have been recycled.

The question becomes whether to add recycling bins to offices and classrooms, or simply replace the trash cans with recycling containers, Rea said.

In addition to the paper, plastic and cans that ended up in trash cans, the crew also collected 23 pounds of glass. Though the glass can’t go in the single stream recycling bins around campus, it can be recycled at the Ripple glass recycling bin near the warehouse at JCCC.

Rea and the students also considered trash for which a greener alternative was available.

For example, plastic foam containers made up 8.5 pounds of the 423 pounds of trash that the crew sorted even though JCCC dining services offers reusable alternatives to the disposables. Plastic lined paper cups – the kind that hold coffee – weighed in at 18 pounds, even though JCCC offers reduced prices for customers who bring their own reusable coffee containers.

Rea said the results will be used to form future recycling activities, and plans call for the audit to be repeated again next year.