Interns conduct their first Contamination Audit!
After the 3-bin system was installed at Oakland Tech, our next steps were finding out how to help maintain an under 10% contamination rate and continue to make changes to the system in order to have every member of the community participating in the new shift. In order to do this we did a waste audit, sorting through garbage bags from various locations around the school to test the overall contamination rate. We were all divided into three groups to sort the three groups of waste: landfill, compost, and recycling.
During the audit meeting, we found that 45% of the bags we audited were less than 10% contaminated. We found it quite shocking how 17% of the items found in the compost bins should have been either recycled or thrown in the landfill. The purpose of the waste audit was to discover which section had to most contamination, and create ways to reduce the contamination. In the compost section only, 69.5 lbs were compostable but 13.7 lbs were not. This data shows that students are still unable to fully sort, which means we will have to brainstorm more methods to teach the students of Tech. Since compost is the newest bin concept to students, we strive to find a more convenient way to adapt compost into student culture. We plan to present to more classrooms so that students may learn to properly sort. Signs of the most common items could be placed on a poster that would be placed above the large bins. Common items found during the compost sorting process were gum inside its wrapper, carrots inside its plastic bag, and utensils.
Recycling was our most successful bin in terms of proper sorting. An issue we did have was having to take our best judgement on items that could be either recycled or composted. We believe that the audit results are swayed due to items that could be both composted and recycled being weighed as compost. We believe that students did well as disposing of recyclables correctly because they were used to distinguishing between items that go in landfill and recycle. We discovered that 78% of the items in the recycling bin were correctly placed. In the recycling section, 44.9 lbs of the total 58.5 lbs were recyclable. This data proves that students are not able to completely identify recyclable items. The most common items were plastic and paper containers, and cardboard boxes. Since most students already know what recycling is it will be the easiest section to educate students about. We plan to present to more classrooms so that students will learn the proper conditions for items to be thrown in the recycling. Posters and signs that inform students that food soil boxes and wet papers should not be placed in recycling could be placed above the recycling bins.
The Recycling and Compost groups both dealt with contamination due to mis-sorting, the main sources of contamination in the landfill bags came from students being unaware of other places for their trash to go (i.e. compost or recycling). In the Landfill bags interns sorted through, we found that only 22.1% of the waste actually belonged in the landfill.
Almost half of the waste in the landfill bags – 45% of it, was meant to be put into the compost while another 32.8% could have been recycled. These numbers have lowered compared to our first waste audit – where 91% of waste could have been put in recycling or compost. However, there is still a huge portion of waste being needlessly dumped into the Landfill at Tech.
Since landfill was previously the only bin available at the school, the huge amount of Landfill contamination can be mostly be explained by a simple lack of awareness. If the students, and the staff were educated more thoroughly on how to use the three bin system, there would be less contamination in the Landfill. This would lead to a bigger success of the system overall, because the first step towards success is to help people see that there are ways to dispose of waste that don’t add to our local dump. If students begin to understand that their waste can be sorted into the Recycling or the Compost, this will also help the amount of contamination in those bins thanks to an increase in awareness.
Through sorting the Landfill, we learned that despite making an improvement at Tech by putting in the three bin system, we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to waste disposal. Until every individual is aware of where each item they are throwing out should be placed, we should aim at educating community members and spreading awareness about the two new bins at Tech! Putting in the bins was the first step, making sure people know how to use them is now our main goal in order to continue to achieve a more sustainable school.
Written By: Lucy, Lawrence, Tiffany, and Kendall
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