Poor Waste Sorting Thwarts New Waste Management Implementation

Campus Services (CS) is facing some challenges with the University’s installation of new standardized waste bins, including trash overflow during peak periods and missorted trash, according to Associate Vice President for Facilities Management Todd Kerzie. The new waste disposal system, which has already seen some improvement in landfill diversion, was part of the updated waste management policy implemented in January.

After CS purchased and installed new waste bins, people have been discarding items in the wrong bins. As a result, waste “rejections” have been occurring at an off-site collection facility. Rejections happen when a particular waste bag contains too much of another type of waste and the facility redirects the waste to a different recycling center or a landfill site. Indoor waste bins have also faced issues with trash being improperly sorted, with most rejections occurring in Greek housing, the DUC-ling and Cox Dining Hall, according to Kerzie.

The five different containers are compost, plastic/cans, mixed paper, white paper and landfill. CS spent between $200,000 and $300,000 on the new waste bins, the Wheel reported on Nov. 8, 2017.

“Implementing the policy has been the easy part,” Vice President for CS Matthew Early said. “The only thing is people now moving forward with the policy, especially on the external containers across campus. I still see plastic and aluminum cans placed in the composting containers.”

Within the first month of implementation, total waste diverted from landfill trash to recycling or compost increased by 5 percent to 66 percent, Kerzie wrote in a March 2 email to the Wheel. The University diverted 75 percent of its waste from landfill in February, Kerzie wrote in an April 10 email to the Wheel. For comparison, the diversion rate for the 2017 fiscal year ending on Aug. 31, 2017 was 59 percent, according to the CS website. The University’s goal is a 95 percent diversion rate by 2025.

Cahoon Family Professor of American History Patrick Allitt, who lectures in Bowden Hall, said that people put food waste in the recycling or landfill bins that are not serviced as frequently, causing an unpleasant odor in the area.

“The problem … is that the food waste smells terrible and the container doesn’t get cleaned out often enough,” Allitt said. “So most of the time the entire History Department is contaminated with the nasty smell of old, almost rotten food waste.”

Allitt added that he thinks that the new policy of sorted trash bins is “very sensible.”

Matthew Callahan, a CS custodian who services recycling bins for fraternity houses on Eagle Row, said that missorted trash is a campus-wide issue but it is especially prevalent in fraternity houses.

Early said that CS custodial staff have shown him images of how one fraternity house has Hefty trash bags placed around the house to collect all forms of trash. These bags, containing unsorted garbage, are then disposed of in recycling containers meant only for plastic, metals and paper.

“I don’t know if it’s an education thing or if people don’t want to take that extra second [to separate waste components],” Early said.

Kerzie and Director of the Office of Sustainability Initiatives (OSI) Ciannat Howett both acknowledged that recycling and compost bins outside Cox Hall frequently overflow during lunchtime.

“It’s sort of a nice problem when your compost bins are overflowing because it means you’re being successful,” Howett said. “We need eyes and ears on the ground to help us … [students will email us] and say ‘Oh, the bins are overflowing on Cox Hall Bridge’ and we can say ‘Oh, great, we’ve got to find a solution for that.’ ”

To resolve the issue, CS and Emory Dining are ordering Bigbelly solar trash compactors and increasing the number of bins that surround the staircases and elevator leading to Cox Hall, Kerzie said. A lease to pilot a Bigbelly compactor is “being worked out” with the Bigbelly company and the compactor will be placed near Cox Hall once it arrives.

As of March 5, there are 26 combined recycling and compost bins around Cox Hall. During the “two to three hours” of the lunch rush, those bins are serviced “every 15 minutes,” according to OSI Intern Jamie Nadler (19C).

According to Howett, Emory’s “Waste Think Tank,” comprised of employees in OSI, CS, Building and Residential Services (BRS) and the Environmental Health and Safety Office (EHSO), has been brainstorming ideas about how to move forward with the new policies in an attempt to address this issue.

OSI is responsible for educating faculty, staff and students on sustainability initiatives, according to the Waste Management Policy. Howett said the University is working with a team of faculty, staff and students who help Emory community members understand the new policy and how to sort waste appropriately.

Howett attributes the organization and coordination of the new waste policy to the work of the Waste Think Tank.

While CS has not yet reached out to Greek organizations about waste management concerns, “the Residence Life and Housing Operations staff has been monitoring and providing additional guidance to the individual Greek organizations as this sustainability initiative continues to be implemented and refined,” Kerzie said.

Devin Bog contributed reporting.

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