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With an increasingly large human population comes an increasingly large amount of waste produced. Humans produce more waste than any other species on this planet, and as such, we are required to adopt a system to dispose of this waste. Waste disposal is a part of everyone’s daily life, though may do not even notice it. For that reason, this project was launched in an effort to raise awareness about waste disposal habits. In other words, this project forced the participants to make conscious decisions about how and where they were disposing of the waste and develop a more thorough understanding of their waste disposal habits. Humans are not alone on this planet. The space we occupy is not only ours, but also home to other animals and plants. The risks that poor waste management and waste in general pose to this planet affect all its inhabitant. The risks include water pollution (as seen in the Great Pacific garbage patch), air pollution, and soil contamination. This project, in which the students of ENV 1501 participated, was run with the support of the Office of Campus Sustainability. The Office of Campus Sustainability works to promote environmental sustainability throughout the campus, striving to integrate sustainability into the everyday lives of staff and students at the University of Ottawa through the operations, research and teachings of the school. This report is a comprehensive guide to the project and an analysis of its results. It contains the findings of the project, including an overview of the methods used and the steps taken.
Waste is any substance that is eliminated or discarded as no longer useful or required after the completion of a process. As a society that revolves around and relies on consumerism in a big way, we produce large amounts of waste every day. An important thing to keep in mind when discussing proper waste disposal is that it does not only affect the person disposing of it. How we dispose of our waste impacts everyone and everything around us – other people, animals, and our environment itself. It is a well-known fact that waste has a detrimental impact on all of these things, and for that reason, it is essential that we pay attention to our waste and where it is going. By both limiting how much waste we produce, and by making sure we know how and where it is being disposed of, we can begin to develop a greater awareness of how much waste is circulated in this world, where it ends up, and how it affects the world around us. As stated, the issues that stem from waste and its disposal affect everything and everyone around us. The effects of waste are not only from its disposal, but also its production. In the consumerist society that we live in today, more and more disposable products are made to sustain this economy of consumerism we rely on so heavily. For example, every item of clothing we wear must be made, shipped, transported and sold – all of which take a toll on the environment, whether it be the greenhouse gases being emitted during transport, or the destruction of animal habitats in order to build a factory to make the clothing. What makes waste so dangerous is in fact this cyclical nature; every item of waste is associated with a whole chain of other elements related to its production – they all have a detrimental impact on the environment. This means that the rate at which our society produces waste is completely unsustainable, and steps need to be taken in order to solve the problem. The Office of Campus Sustainability at the University of Ottawa has taken action to work against the problems and threats that increasing waste pose to our environment and more specifically, our community. Through a plethora of initiatives started by the Office, ranging from The Free Store (which is aimed at recycling items that would otherwise be thrown out) to this project focused on waste management and reduction. These initiatives have been taken in order to ensure that the University of Ottawa acts as a model community for others to follow, leading to a society that places great value on sustainable living and waste reduction.
This project was completed over the course of seven consecutive days, during which the participants were asked to keep a journal of all waste they produced throughout the week. This data was recorded in an excel sheet, displaying what item was thrown out, along with when and where it was disposed of. Participants also recorded in what manner the item was thrown out, and why it could not be recycled or composted. The results of this project will aid the Office of Campus Sustainability gain greater insight into the waste habits on campus at the University. This is turn will allow for more effective and targeted waste management. As with any data collection method that requires personal entries, there is a margin for error in this project, in that the method offers the possibility of forgetting to input all items of waste. Despite this possible error margin, the data will offer a general display of typical waste production from the participants.
Looking at the data recorded in the Excel chart, two major trends become obvious. The first of these is where the waste is coming from. In this case, the majority of the waste produced over the course of the week is from various food products. Some examples of these are empty pop cans, candy wrappers, and plastic bags used for carrying groceries. This is an indication that the food industry has not yet converted to a waste-free, or more sustainable system, and also that not enough steps were taken to challenge the amount of waste coming from food products. For example, using a reusable bag when going grocery shopping would eliminated the waste caused by the plastic bags. Additionally, making sure to use a reusable water bottle more frequently would eliminate the need for disposable plastic water bottles. Another interesting trend is what location the most waste was disposed of in. In this case, most of the waste generated over the course of the week was from home. In the chart, the reasoning given for most of the items being thrown out was that there was no accessible recycling or compost bins. The solution to this problem is therefore quite clear – having a recycling bin and compost bin accessible from home. Also indicated by the chart is that there were very few instances where the signs were not clear. This suggests that waste disposal stations around the campus have good signage, and that very little potentially recyclable waste is thrown in the garbage because of confusion.
One of the goals of this project was to become more aware of our waste and consumption habits and use this awareness to make a change in these habits. One of the take-aways from this assignment is that there are changes to be made on every level of waste management, whether it be personal, school-wide, or even for the environment in general. While this is a sign that there are many flaws in the systems we use to dispose of our waste, it is also an indication that we have a lot of room for improvement in working towards a more sustainable society. On a personal level, the main lesson learned from this project is that being aware of what we are throwing out, how frequently we are recycling and where our waste is going is the key to reducing our waste and reducing our consumption of products that will end up in the garbage. After keeping a record of all waste for seven days, it becomes easier to recognize patterns and make changes to reduce waste. In terms of the University and any flaws in the waste management system, the most common problem, as recorded in the Excel chart, was a lack of accessibility to recycling or compost bins – in other words, the many things that were thrown in the garbage over the course of the seven days were items that could have been recycled or composted but there was no bin nearby. This was more of an issue with compostable items, like banana peels and apple cores, because in most of the disposal stations on campus, there is no compost option. In a more general sense, an issue that should be addressed by our society on the whole is a general lack of attention being payed to how much waste we produce. In order to solve a problem like this one, the first step that needs to be taken is to recognize and become aware of the issue. With more people becoming aware of the role they play in the waste problem in the world today, it will become easier to reduce waste and solve the issue. After participating in this project and gaining a more thorough understanding of the waste disposal system on campus, the recommendation I would make to the Office of Campus Sustainability would be to increase the number of compost bins available around campus, in an effort to reduce the number of compostable items being thrown in the garbage. What I have learned from participating in the project is how simply raising awareness on a problem, in this case it was focusing on waste and how we dispose of it, is the very important first step in solving any problem. For me, this means that when I pay more attention to my waste and consumption habits, I can make more decisions to reduce this waste.
Two of the most important conclusions that were drawn from the Excel chart were the source of most of the waste, and why most of the recyclable and compostable waste was thrown in the garbage instead. For the source of waste, the data indicated that it mostly came from food products, or related things like plastic grocery bags. In terms of where the waste was going, much of the waste that should have been recycled or composted was thrown in the garbage instead. By acknowledging these two negative trends, it is easier to eliminate them. This project has allowed for a group of students to keep track of their waste habits and become more aware of them in order to make changes in their routine in order to live a more sustainable lifestyle. This is a step towards moving to a low-waste campus, or society, but the question left at the end of this project is how to encourage everyone to take this kind of action and their own lives n order to make a significant change. The next step if for the Office of Campus Sustainability and their initiatives such as this project to become a model for others to follow suit, turning this initiative into a large-scale step towards a more sustainable world.
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