Sustainability Column: Colgate’s Waste Audit

Matt Froelich, Maroon-News Staff

To put it simply, Colgate produces a lot of waste. Even worse, the amount of waste the Colgate community creates is increasing exponentially. In 2016, we produced 750 tons of waste and so far, we have produced 850 tons in 2017. Also, Colgate’s recycling rate for 2017 has only averaged 12 percent over a 10-week period – this means only 12 percent of all waste is being recycled, meaning a lot of recyclable products are ending up in the trash. 

The Office of Sustainability identified that improving the cross-campus recycling system would help reduce our contribution to landfills. I participated in a waste audit, which is an analysis of an organization’s waste stream to see what is and what is not being recycled and what the contamination rate is in order to find the major issues with the current recycling system. The first audit took place in the Bryan Complex on October 29. This first audit was an important step in identifying how Colgate can improve its

recycling while reducing waste impact on landfills. 

This year, the Sustainability Office also decided to place in-room recycling bins in some of the dorm rooms, to see if having accessible recycling bins affected a dorm’s recycling rate. We used Bryan Complex as our sample dorm, which is also why the Bryan Complex was the site of the first waste audit, to see if the recycling bins were effective.

 We took the weekend’s worth of trash, paper, bottles and cans from every floor in each tower and weighed the total for each category. From the towers with in-room recycling, the collected waste weighed about 89 lbs. with a recycling rate of 46.39 percent. Comparatively, rooms without in-room recycling bins produced 70 lbs. of trash, but had a slightly smaller recycling rate of 44 percent. 

When going through the waste from Bryan, we noticed that much of what is being thrown out could have been recycled. Conversely, common contaminants found in the recycling bins included: disposable silverware, paper cups, Coop yogurt cups, food and plastic straws. An important lesson we can learn from these results is that we should all be more cautious of what we are throwing into a recycling bin as it can contaminate the entire bag, making the container non-recyclable. Items like Coop coffee cups and paper cups are not recyclable and should go in the trash. 

After completing the audit, we realized the difficulties that our facilities staff face every day. They work extremely hard to make our campus clean for our use. So next time you see a staff member, make sure to give them a huge thanks!

Contact  Matt Froelich at [email protected].