By Julianna Cummins and Drew Penner
Eating in the Hub cafeteria, Soni Dhaliwal is surrounded by leftover pizza crusts, cardboard boxes of half-eaten fries and Chinese food remnants — all organic materials that could be composted.
Instead, Ryerson University’s organic waste is shoved into garbage bags and left to rot with the rest of Toronto’s trash.
“We’re creating more garbage than necessary,” said the fourth-year occupational health and safety student. “I just throw all my extra food in the garbage because there’s nowhere else to put it.”
This is a major problem for the environmentally conscious student and with no green bins at Ryerson, the potential for organic waste is just wasted.
That’s not to say that Ryerson has been ignoring environmental issues. In 2007, Ryerson won the Green Toronto Award for the green roof on the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre. And during sustainability month this October, Ryerson won the Gold Award at the Ontario Waste Minimization Awards for diverting the most waste from landfills.
But with Ryerson trashing organic waste, the university is missing a key part of what it means to be green.
“The irony is that the green bin program is a very sustainable program. It defines sustainability,” said Geoff Rathbone, manager of waste services for Toronto. “What’s not sustainable is taking our food waste and putting it in landfills.”
Without green bins on campus, organic waste is shipped 14 hours southwest with the rest of Toronto’s trash, to a Michigan landfill.
Of the 800 tonnes of waste that Ryerson privately manages each year, 72 per cent is diverted, mostly through recycling. For $160,000 a year, Turtle Island Recycling picks up Ryerson’s trash. Recycling glass, paper and plastic pulls in a profit for Ryerson — but organic waste doesn’t offer the same cash incentive.
Ryerson has no immediate plans to start the green bin program. And though landfill space is running out in Michigan, organic waste collection comes with a hefty price tag that might not be in Ryerson’s budget.
“Recycling is actually less expensive than going to a landfill,” Rathbone said. “But that’s not the case with green bins.”
York University composts and diverted 136 tonnes of organics from landfills in 2007-2008 and the University of Toronto has composting bins in all of their large kitchens. York spends $60,000 for the service.
“We pay big money to have it picked up,” said Tim Haagsma, York University’s manager of waste.
Green bins aren’t a priority at campus planning and facilities, the office that oversees Ryerson’s garbage removal. “We just haven’t gotten around to it really,” said Adrian Williams, manger of custodial services at Ryerson. “It’s just one of the last things on the list.”
Williams said the cost of acquiring bins, extra labour and the potential increase in the population of rats and other pests on campus, would be just a few of the challenges of developing a green bin program at Ryerson.
In November, Toronto will spend $54 million to develop organic waste systems in all high-rises.
The city hopes to use the methane produced from two organic recycling facilities under development to generate electricity.
“Right now we’re [Ryerson] just throwing it away,” said Dhaliwal, about green recyclables. “We can use it for so many things. We could use it for creating energy.”
And while Williams says Ryerson is looking into the feasibility of an organic waste disposal program, even President Sheldon Levy said there’s no immediate interest in starting a green bin program.
Both York and U of T have administrative bodies that look beyond waste diversion and focus on sustainability.
But if green bins aren’t in Ryerson’s budget, a new office may also be out of financial reach. It costs York approximately $100,000 for a sustainability official and U of T’s operating costs fluctuate from $150,000 to $500,000.
Levy said Ryerson has to curb spending because of the current economic crisis. And although he’s interested in a sustainability office, there are no plans to get the ball rolling.