Toss a pop can in the recycling bin just outside the D. B. Weldon Library. Break down a cardboard in your office kitchen. Throw an apple core in the organic bin in residence.
The job of recycling is done, right? Far from it, says Jim Galbraith, Western’s manager of Landscape Services & Waste Management.
“Things are just getting started at this point,” he said. “And it repeats itself every day. Recycling is so much work.”
Thanks to those efforts, however, Western diverted more than 50 per cent of its waste from landfill in 2013, one of the highest rates in the country, when compared to other higher education institutions.
Here is just a sampling of what Galbraith’s team has done with recycling more than 1,600 tonnes of waste on Western’s campus:
- Clear glass – 98 tonnes;
- Paper – 262 tonnes
- Cardboard – 253 tonnes;
- Scrap metal – 50 tonnes;
- Cans – 12 tonnes;
- E-recycle – 30 tonnes;
- Mixed plastic – 54 tonnes;
- Concrete/Asphalt – 118 tonnes;
- Compost (Food Services) – 206 tonnes; and
- Compost (Grounds) – 234 tonnes.
“Diversion from landfill to recycling is a ‘people project,’” Galbraith said. “It’s a labour of love and an appreciation of the environment. If you want to help, just do it.”
Recycling is, in no way, a money-maker, but rather an environmental necessity. Garbage cleanup and recycling cost the university more than $2 million each year, “just to clean up after everyone,” with Western receiving some, but not much, financial return for their recycling efforts from the City of London and other recycling partners.
“There are 40,000 people here on campus and, just imagine, if everyone dropped a piece of garbage each day. Imagine that mess,” said Galbraith, who, each day, has a full-time worker on a Madvac sweeper, two emptying recycling containers and 13 others keeping campus spotless – adding up to 25 per cent of his staff.
“London’s landfill will eventually run out of space, so every time we send along unnecessary garbage – garbage that should be recycled – we’re moving that day even closer, which is what we are wanting to avoid,” Galbraith said.
But getting everyone on board for recycling is difficult.
Galbraith said some simply don’t care, but there are also those, such as international students and Western’s large contingent from the Greater Toronto Area, whose recycling programs are different at home than they are on campus, so there may be some initial confusion.
Education is key in that sense, Galbraith said, with recycling programs in every building on campus, including postings of what is, and isn’t, recyclable, and the proper bins to be used. The campus community is also encouraged to check out sustainability.uwo.ca, where they’ll find all recycling information, including the fact, as of last month, Western is recycling coffee cups.
“It is hard to have everyone compliant with recycling, but we’re doing well,” Galbraith said. “We’re passing, but I don’t think we’re getting honours. It’s very easy to just leave everything at Western – out of sight out of mind. There is still, and always will be, work to do when it comes to recycling.”
And the most effective part of the recycling operation?
“Our people are the ones who make or break the program. Facilities team members can pick things up, but if it’s in the wrong container, or in the garbage bin instead, we may not have time to move or sort it, and it fails,” he said. “We can do better on recycling. Nobody is perfect, we know that, but there are hundreds of bins across campus – outside and inside. We’re at the point on campus where you can’t go 50 feet, or so, without the opportunity to recycle.
“But it’s only successful if we’re all in.”
While attaining more than 50 per cent recycling of all waste material is great, a larger goal looms ahead, Galbraith said. Western hopes to become a zero waste campus (meaning 90 per cent or greater diverted from landfill) by 2022.
Is that an attainable goal? Westminster Hall’s achievement of zero waste status already is a testament to the commitment to reduce unnecessary waste on campus and acts as a model for the entire campus, Galbraith said.
“It’s all about taking responsibility with what you have, what you buy, and then how you take dispose of it,” he said. “It will be hard, but there is no excuse not to recycle.
“If everyone did, it would be amazing.”