Waste education the key to better waste management

When it comes to throwing out your rubbish around campus, it’s clear which bin to dispose it in—paper items go in the paper bin, all plastic items and cans go in recycling, and the rest goes into general waste. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.

During September’s Toitū te Ao—Sustainability Week, student club Plastic Diet at Vic and the Victoria Development Society were on hand around the Hub on Kelburn campuses to educate everyone about how to use the bins correctly.

Student sustainability committee members Kirsty Frame, Sophie Brooker, Kate de Boer, and Abbi Nevil wanted to shed light on the common misconceptions around rubbish disposal in Wellington and show how everyone can improve their habits through education.

The passionate environmentalists began their investigation of the student population’s waste disposal behaviour with an audit in the Hub last month, as part of a wider student waste minimisation plan.

“Before our audit, we inspected the area over a period of time and found lots of contamination. Contamination is essentially something that shouldn’t be there—like food in recycling bins—which we saw a lot of,” says Kirsty.

Rubbish was gathered from bins around the Hub, then sorted into the correct waste categories by the students and a larger team of helpers.

During the initial audit, 15 kilograms worth of compostable material—such as food waste, brown salad boxes, brown paper plates, brown napkins, bamboo cutlery, and chopsticks—were collected from the general waste bins. Kirsty says, “This is material that could easily be diverted from being sent to landfill with successful implementation of organic waste collection by the University.

“The most common misconception is that takeaway coffee cups (and their lids) can be recycled. There are too many thin layers of PLA (Polylactic Acid) within the cup to recycle it, and Wellington’s composting facility is no longer accepting compostable cups. Therefore, all takeaway coffee cups and their lids need to be disposed of in the landfill.”

PLA is similar to plastic but made from corn starch. Used to line coffee cups and made into eco-plastic containers, PLA is difficult to compost in New Zealand and there are no Wellington facilities that can process this material.

During the second audit, club members were positioned next to the bins educating others on correct waste disposal. Through correct recycling and the implementation of an organic waste collection for the day, the club diverted 55 percent of waste from going to landfill—more than double the amount compared to the first audit.

The waste audit identified 830gm of non-compostable materials which were incorrectly placed in the recycling bin. Too much contamination results in the whole recycling load being processed into landfill.

“Considering a coffee cup or eco-plastic container weighs approximately 5gm without food, that is still an excessive amount of contamination,” says Kirsty.

Students were also made aware of the glass recycling bin in the Hub, outside VicBooks. Glass can be efficiently and indefinitely recycled in New Zealand.

“As waste management is a priority to the University, the type of information received from an audit like this helps to make informed decisions on how to increase recycling and sustainability efforts around each campus. New recycling bins and signage will soon be appearing in the Hub and the adjacent corridors, to align these areas with the bins elsewhere and make it simpler for people to use.” says Facilities Sustainability Manager Jenny Spence.