Waste Audit 2013

I’m FINALLY writing about the waste audit…

Getting ready for the audit, collecting the garbage.

Getting ready for the audit, collecting the garbage.

On Friday February 1st, we held a Waste Audit at Blake. Schools have to do at least one waste audit each school year for the EcoSchools certification, and it’s also something I was meant to do as part of the waste diversion and compost project I was working on.  I did run a waste audit last spring, but I had never taken part in one before, so while that one went ok, it could definitely have been better. This time we were lucky to get Mieke Foster, the Waste Management Specialist from the TDSB (our local school board), to come and run the audit with/for us.  She’s been running these for about 20 years, so she knows what she’s doing! And as we found out, we’re super lucky that she came in to Blake this year – she’s retiring this summer, so I’m super happy that I got this chance to do a waste audit with her. She also had a couple of volunteers who often help her with the audits, which was really helpful.

Setting up the chairs and bags for sorting.

Setting up the chairs and bags for sorting.

So, the point of the audit is to figure out how much waste the school produces, how well it gets sorted into the proper containers, and then ultimately to come up with ideas of how to reduce the waste (especially that going into landfill, but really, to reduce waste overall).  We had collected all of the garbage, recycling and compost from the whole school the day before the audit.

Getting instructions on how to sort.

Getting instructions on how to sort.

 

 

Mieke, who led the audit, was super energetic and enthusiastic about the waste audit – getting a bunch of pre-teens enthusiastic about working with garbage is no easy feat! She introduced the audit as a “treasure hunt” and as “archaeology”, though in this case we were looking at objects from yesterday, not from hundreds or thousands of years ago.  We had a group of 12 grade 4-6 students doing the audit, some of whom are in the EcoClub.  There were also myself, one teacher and one EA helping out.

Bags hung on chairs for sorting.

Bags hung on chairs for sorting.

The room was set up in a very specific way. There were labeled chairs with clear garbage bags, with categories such as recyclable paper, recyclable containers, food waste, real garbage, etc.  There were also small bins with the same categories. Before dumping and sorting a bag, it was weighed and the weight was recorded. The bag was then emptied onto the large sorting table, and students sorted the contents into the labeled bins, which were then emptied into the bags.  We were all assigned different tasks. Most of the students were sorting the garbage. A couple of students were assigned to be photographers and document the audit.  I was in charge of writing down EVERYTHING – as each item was sorted into labeled bins, I had to write down the name of the item.  This process was repeated for each bag of garbage and recycling.

Sorting in action.

Sorting in action.

 

(The students’ enthusiasm came in waves throughout the audit, with some needing occasional breaks – we found that having 12 students was a few too many, as there ended up being some times when there wasn’t enough for all of them to do, so some got a bit bored.)   For detailed information about planning and running a school waste audit, see this document from the TDSB.

Lots of wasted paper towel. Do we really need pieces that long to dry our hands?

Lots of wasted paper towel. Do we really need pieces that long to dry our hands?

 

The main findings from the audit included seeing that, overall, classroom waste is sorted pretty well, with the biggest challenges being in the lunchroom. One issue we found was a very common one – there was lots of paper towel in the recycling, though it should be in the garbage (or at home, in the green bin).  There was also lots of GOOS paper – Good On One Side – which could be reused. The school had a classroom GOOS-paper bin contest last year, but it’s something that needs to be reminded of. We also found that food waste was a big problem that needs to be addressed. Mieke gave an interesting example of the “embedded energy” in food, in this case an apple. She took us through an apple’s journey and had the students consider the energy that was used to grow, harvest, transport, sell, buy… the apple. It was a good example to show the kids how much energy we are wasting (essentially throwing away), if we don’t eat the apple.

Unopened food found in the garbage.

Unopened food found in the garbage.

Those look like tasty bagels!

Those look like tasty bagels!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The audit (and Mieke) gave us lots of ideas of how to move forward. Now to start planning and implementing some changes…

Sorted bags in categories.

Sorted bags in categories.

Overall, I found this to be a great learning experience! And it was great to spend a morning with people (Mieke and the volunteers) who are excited about waste reduction as I am! 🙂

Happy growing!

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