When walking around campus, waste bins can be seen almost everywhere. However, where does the waste you throw out actually go?

According to Rylan Urban, a Master of Science in Sustainability Management (MScSM) student, only a small portion of the waste on campus is actually recycled.

“Although UTM has recycling bins everywhere, almost nothing is actually recycled and there is a complete lack of transparency around this,” said Urban.

“The UTM Sustainability Office won’t even [clearly] tell us their waste diversion rate to communicate with students. To me, this seems like a counterproductive way to teach students about the university’s footprint,” continued Urban.

During UTM’s first ever Sustainability Week, a survey was conducted by MScSM students. Out of the 662 responses collected from students, staff, and faculty, about 53 per cent of respondents felt that UTM could still improve their sustainability initiatives on campus but was on the right track. 39 per cent of respondents felt that UTM still had a lot of work to do.

In the same survey, one in two respondents thought that coffee cups were recyclable when they were not.

“We need to educate students to be environmental stewards and to think and know how to dispose of their unwanted items. Its more than just providing better bins,” said Raguram (Ragu) Bhaskar, a MScSM student.

Chelsea Dalton, UTM’s Environmental/Sustainability Coordinator spoke with The Medium on the concerns surrounding UTM’s waste system.  

“We are aware that current bins and signage are inadequate.  We are working to rectify this, and we will be piloting new waste collection bins on campus later this year,” said Dalton.

These new bins, according to Dalton, will have four streams: landfill, containers, paper, and organics. The bins are also expected to have clear signage so that students, staff, and faculty are able to sort their waste properly.

An education and engagement campaign is also expected to launch along with the new bins so that students are more educated on where to throw out their waste. 

“If this pilot program proves successful, we will be rolling out the new bins campus-wide. I do not have an exact date, but it will be over the summer months. Once students are back in class in September, the bins will be in place,” said Dalton.

When asked about the waste diversion rate at UTM, Dalton stated that approximately 30 per cent of waste is disposed of in the public bins found on campus. This 30 per cent does not include several sources of waste such as construction and demolition waste, light bulbs, and hazardous waste.

Claire Westgate, the Placement & Employer Relations manager for the MScSM program, also spoke with The Medium and talked about what was needed to improve UTM’s waste system.

“We as a campus still have to grapple with what to do with our current waste and our current systems. UTM has grown quickly and with it our population of students, staff, faculty and, therefore, [our use of resources],” said Westgate.

“What the campus ultimately needs is not just a new system of bins that are innovatively designed and displayed to ensure that people sort their waste and recycling and organics correctly,” continued Westgate, “but a really smooth and integrated system in which everything that the campus purchases, the choices made on the types of cups, serving ware, and takeout containers for instance, align with what our bins can handle. Which in turn aligns with what caretaking is able to manage logistically. Which in turn aligns with what our campus waste hauler can make happen for us.”

Westgate used a paper cup as an example to illustrate how complicated waste can become and that it’s not as simple as just distributing new bins on campus.

“Most people usually try to do the right thing. If you’re holding a paper cup, you might think it’s recyclable, either because it’s made of paper or maybe it’s recyclable in your hometown. But at UTM, those paper cups are not recyclable—they need to go to the garbage stream,” said Westgate.  

“Then, if there is leftover tea or coffee in that cup, and someone throws it in recycling, that coffee will pour all over the contents and everything then has to go to landfill,” continued Westgate.   

Most students may be unaware, but UTM follows different waste rules than the Region of Peel.

“This is because the Region of Peel processes recycling and organics in their own facility. We use a private hauler to dispose of UTM’s waste, and they use a different facility to process the waste, and also have different buyers for the product,” said Dalton.

Unlike the Region of Peel, UTM does not accept polystyrene (Styrofoam) for recycling. This leaves a lot of students confused when they are told that the Styrofoam that they could recycle at home is not recyclable at school.

“Many people think of whether a certain product can be recycled as a simple ‘yes or no’ question, when in reality it’s anything but,” said Dalton.

“Many people like the idea of recycling and want to do the right thing,” continued Dalton. “So if they have an item that they aren’t sure can be recycled, they’ll put it in the recycling because they want to do good.  But if that item turns out to not be recyclable (or it’s contaminated with food or liquid), then it contaminates the whole load.”

According to Dalton, recycling only works because of buyers that are willing to buy the product after its sorted. Things get complicated when the material is contaminated. Instead of being sorted properly, the materials are left in landfills because no one wants to buy them or sort them because it would be too expensive.

Dalton suggested that reducing and reusing materials before recycling will help avoid this problem.

“Those two words come before “recycle” in the three R’s for a reason! It’s best to reduce the overall amount of waste you produce first, then reuse what you have, and finally recycling should be a last resort before landfill,” said Dalton.

According to both Dalton and Westgate, at the end of the day recycling is a complicated issue but an issue that can be resolved.

“Recycling properly is much more challenging than just putting out bins and some signage,” said Dalton.

“I think we’re going to get there as a campus. There is a tremendous amount of discussion among different divisions on this right now, and with support from students, staff, and faculty, I think we can really achieve something cool and leading-edge,” said Westgate.

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