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Sorting through Ryerson’s trashy secret

Ryerson says it is dedicated to reducing waste on campus but the university is still coming up short. Mike Derman discovers how the university is creating more trash on our campus

Every day, garbage trucks invade campus to get rid of 12,700 kg of trash that students throw into unlabelled bins throughout campus. The trucks pile up with mainly black garbage bags and disappear to the plant.

Unless you followed the garbage trucks, you wouldn’t know that those solid black bags can’t be sorted. Unless Ryerson recycles in clear bags, all that waste is headed for a landfill.

“We typically don’t sort through black bags because of health and safety reasons on the line,” said Amina Lang, Environmental Specialist at Turtle Island Recycling.

Ryerson University contracts their waste management to Turtle Island Recycling for $160,000 a year. If bagged properly, the company will sort through the recycling and garbage at their facilities. From 2008 to 2011, statistics for the waste diversion have risen from 72 per cent to 77.1 per cent.

But while the statistics remain positive, there is no clear answer as to whether the university will make the switch to clear bags throughout campus.

“I think most of the buildings have switched or are trying to use up their black bags,” said Adrian Williams, manager of custodial services. Williams confirmed the Ted Rogers School of Management is one building still currently using black bags in an effort to get rid of them.

Lang said they will sort through clear bags because it is easier to identify what they will be putting on the line. But any recycling in black bags is too easily contaminated from the other garbage in the bag and will be put in a landfill.

The location of where the garbage is picked up from is also an issue.

“If we pick up garbage [and] we don’t know where it came from, we won’t open it,” said Lang.

Lang was unable to confirm what the ratio of black bags to clear bags coming from Ryerson was because it goes straight into the plant.

Most of student complaints stem from the inconsistency of bins on campus, said Rodney Diverlus, vice president equity of the Ryerson Student’s Union (RSU).

“Walking on Gould Street, you will encounter one of the city’s three-holed bins, generic waste bins, and campus planning ones. This makes it confusing for students who are unsure what goes where,” he said.

In 2007, Williams spent $1,500 putting up signage across campus to promote recycling. “Most people didn’t read them,” he said.

The campus planning and sustainability office is now working on a new campaign to get the word out to students. Williams was unable to comment on the details of the project, saying it was still in the early stages of development. The new division within campus planning has included a new position for a sustainability office to make green initiatives more visible to students.

Ryerson also has only one green bin program currently set up in the Hub Cafeteria. The program collects organics from the food production area and puts it into a cold storage room. But the composting program doesn’t extend to students’ own organic food scraps.

Williams said they are considering extending the green bin program throughout campus but it is still in the early stages of discussion, although talks of implementing a green bin program started as early as 2008.

In a 2008 issue of the Eyeopener, President Sheldon Levy said an organic waste program would be a costly program to start and while Ryerson undergoes expansion it wasn’t a priority in the budget.

According to Lang, extending  such a plan to the rest of the campus would wind up being almost cost neutral for the university in the future because Ryerson pays for the weight of garbage that is sent to landfills.

The cost of picking up organic waste is about “$2-3 more per yard [of waste] than regular garbage,” said Lang, but that cost is largely offset by money saved from lower landfill charges.

One of the difficulties of starting such a program comes from educating people on how to dispose of organics properly. The university also struggles from lack of space to store organic waste.

“Ryerson does an okay job with waste management, but as with many things, there is a lot of room for improvement, “ said Diverlus.

“Ryerson should have a goal of being a zero-waste institution, but that can only be done with campus-wide composting.”

With files from Rebecca Burton

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