Waste sorting falls short: over one-fifth of Lane’s trash is compostable

According to recent trash audits conducted in Building 16, nearly 23 percent of all landfill waste at Lane is compostable.

Becky Thill, recycling coordinator for the Institute for Sustainable Practices, is heading an experiment in Building 16 to kickstart a composting program to help separate the trash streams and reduce the amount of waste that ends up in the landfill.

“This is changing people’s behavior and cleaning the waste stream. If we’re going to become carbon neutral by 2050, that’s our goal … we’re really trying to support the college in all of it’s ways to get there,” Thill explains.

Carbon neutral is an environmental term that means something gives off no net carbon dioxide, one of the primary greenhouse gasses. Separating these different trash streams means more waste becomes reusable or compostable, a step towards Lane’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2050.

Thill and a student worker conduct their audits by spreading the weekly trash from the building out on a plastic sheet and going through it to find how much of the material in the trash actually belongs there.

“Every one of these waste streams has contamination,” Thill says. “If we can pull that landfill out of the paper and recycling and put it in the landfill, pull that compost out of the landfill and the recycling, we’ll really be doing something then.”

One of the biggest hurdles her office faces is how to let people know what’s trash, what’s recyclable and what’s actually compostable.

“We put picture signs up there in the hopes that that helps people, but then those get confusing because we’ve got coffee cups in each one,” Thill explains. “You’ve got to look at your coffee cup. Does it say compostable? If it says compostable put it in the compost, if it doesn’t say it, put it in the trash.”

The recycling center bins are posted around Building 16 and the Center Building, some with the yellow compost bins next to them.

There is still confusion among students and staff as to what goes where. Sarah Brummell, a pre-veterinary student who also works in the Science Resource Center says she doesn’t currently use the compost bins.

“If I had compost I would probably use them. But, pretty much the only thing I would know to put in there would be like banana peels or like, apples. I wouldn’t know what else to put in them.” However, she’s a big fan of the initiative itself. “I think it’s wonderful. I think it should be everywhere, even downtown,” Brummell said.

Star Glass, coordinator of the Science Resource Center, says one of her concerns with compost bins is fruit flies.

“We did have compost bins in here one time … our big problem was fruit flies. After about a day the fruit flies come, and they’re maddening. So as long as there’s either the proper lid or they’re emptied often enough then there isn’t a problem,” Glass said.

She has kind words for her work study students who take the initiative to go through the trash in the Science Resource Center and pick out recycling and compostable materials from the garbage.

“People just dump anything in the paper things … we just recycle what we can,” Glass explains.

Another problem faced by the recycling program is manpower. Thill and her student worker can only do so much to separate the trash and compostables. Thill hopes to clean the trash streams by helping students and staff pre-sort their own trash. Trash on campus is not sorted beyond the audits to determine the amount of compostables.

“Everybody can help by cleaning the streams,” Thill says. “When you walk up to that recycling station, look for it, look for what it is.”

“It’s mostly coffee cups, honestly,” she said.