Goal to eliminate trash bolstered by new recycling system

Students will no longer have to sort the cardboard or cans going into their recycling bins, a switch that officials say will help drastically cut the amount of campus waste.

The new recycling system is a key part of GW’s plans to cut its waste in half over the next four years. Shannon Ross, a coordinator in the Office of Sustainability, said she expects GW’s recycling rate to jump as students recycle more types of waste in “single-stream recycling” containers, like solo cups and plastic clamshell containers.

She said it’s also a simpler process for students because anything recyclable can go in the one bin.

Media Credit: Andrew Goodman | Hatchet Photographer
A composting station in West Hall on the Mount Vernon Campus is one piece of GW’s plans to go waste free.

Officials have said that GW plans to go “waste free,” but have not released a timeline. Last year, GW consumed about 36,000 pounds of waste more than the year before – a big setback for the ambitious office.

GW campuses consumed a total of more than 312,000 pounds of waste last year, putting the University at No. 168 nationally last year.

But since announcing GW’s intention to produce zero waste, the Office of Sustainability has missed targets for bringing composting to GW’s dining halls, which is a crucial step toward cutting down waste.

The University tried to add a composting area to J Street this fall for students to separate scraps of food, but construction on the “superdorm” blocked off the area. Instead, Ross said the office is looking to compost at large University events.

The efforts will be spearheaded by two new hires – sustainability and facilities hybrid staffers – charged solely with waste reduction.

University President Steven Knapp has poured money into making GW more sustainable since he arrived on campus in 2007, helping lift GW into Sierra Club’s top 25 most eco-friendly schools this year.

About 25 percent of all GW’s waste was recycled last year, a few percentage points more from the year before.

American University, the ninth-most green-friendly college in the country this year, is on track to produce zero waste in just seven years, but its coordinator said GW staffers will face an uphill battle.

Helen Lee, who coordinates American’s effort, said to get on track, GW should formally announce dates with target percentages of waste reduction.

American announced in 2010 that in three years it would cut down waste by 50 percent. The goal is to be completely waste-free by 2020.

To get there, American officials helped train its housekeeping staff and contracted employees to make sure they understand the policy.

GW makes sure that construction projects on campus divert between 80 to 90 percent of materials from landfills, Ross said.

Lee added that GW’s staffers should start analyzing samples of what types of waste buildings throw away each year by asking students and faculty to help sort waste. Once you “understand what makes up the waste,” she said, you can figure out how to reuse or compost them.

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