Fifth Audit to Unearth Waste Trends

In an effort to track and limit the amount of waste that Pomona College needlessly sends to landfills, the Sustainability Integration Office (SIO) is holding its fifth waste audit today.

“We’re mainly trying to get at what is the percentage of actual trash that’s in our trash,” SIO Director Ginny Routhe said.

Last year’s audit revealed that “59 percent of our trash from last year was actually not trash,” Routhe said. “We pay for all the trash that we haul, so that’s money that we throw away.”

Students who have signed up to participate in the audit will sort trash into categories including paper, cardboard, plastic, metal, food wastes,
and “compostable to landfill,” which indicates that an item is compostable but will go to the landfill because the
college cannot compost it on site.

The findings of the waste audits have pushed the college toward long-term goals in waste reduction and diversion. In 2012-2013, 55 percent of waste was diverted from landfills, and the college hopes to improve that figure to 75 percent by 2020.

Robin Xu PO ’15 participated in
Pomona’s waste audit last year.

“I’d never done anything like that and I’m generally
squeamish, but I gritted my teeth and powered through, and I’m glad I did,” Xu wrote in an e-mail to TSL. “It just goes to show that we take
our clean society for granted when we don’t actually have to get up close and
personal with the trash we produce.”

This year, volunteers are sorting trash in a public space to attract attention and gain visibility.

doing it on Friday between the SCC [Smith Campus Center] and Rains [Athletic Center], right in front of everyone.
People need to see what their waste looks like, and how much of it they can actually
divert from the landfill,” Xu wrote.

The first waste audit, in spring 2010, was originally a student’s environmental analysis project.

“It’s a great example of student research feeding into the operations of
the campus,” Routhe said.

Pomona environmental analysis professor Char Miller, who has sat on the Pomona President’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability, worked with students on the
first waste audit.

“Out of this study came the realization that we could [do]
a great deal more to recycle our trash, to save the college some money in the
process and keep our waste out of the region’s landfills,” Miller wrote in an
e-mail to TSL.

year, the college spent about $50,000 disposing of waste, 518 tons of which went
into landfills. A comparison between the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 audits revealed that both the total amount of waste and the waste going to landfills increased.

“The annual audit, in short, is our report
card, and like all such transcripts the news is not always good,” Miller wrote.

Routhe said that the waste audit informs the SIO’s message and yearly
projects. Data from the audits show that the college has reduced “compostable to
landfill” waste from eight percent to two, and the SIO attributes this to changes like the
implementation of reusable mugs and clamshells at the dining halls as well as the Greenware check-out program, which provides reusable dishes and utensils for campus events.

Last year’s audit revealed that 12 percent of the college’s trash was paper, which is easily compostable and an area where the SIO is looking to improve.

Routhe also noted that there was two percent more compost found in the trash in 2013 than was found in the trash in 2010. 

“The post consumer compost program was new in 2010, and I think we’ve lost a bit of steam with post consumer composting as it’s no longer a new thing,” she said in an e-mail to TSL. “That’s why the SIO is trying to pump more life and educational campaigning into the composting effort on campus.”

One way the SIO hopes to do so is through a competition between Pomona’s dining halls to see which one can generate the most compost. 

“We still see a lot of food and napkins going back to the dish room, and the student who collects the compost around campus would love to see more compost in those bins, so we do have the sense there’s more we could be doing,” Routhe said. 

Miller added that decreasing consumption is important. 

He wrote, “We can shrink our rates of consuming (shorter showers, less driving, fewer kilowatts, more veggies), a downsizing that collectively can have an impact; the US after all consumes resources at an astonishing rate and we have to clean up our house. One dorm room, office, and field at a time.” 

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