Trash Talk: Have You “Bin” Recycling?

Project Green Light aims to educate students on proper waste sorting procedures on campus.

Last year, Enactus Mount Allison conducted a survey on students in residence and their waste-sorting habits. The results indicated a serious problem. “Out of about 260 participants in residence, about 60% of students did not know how to sort waste on campus,” said Lopsii Olagoke, a fifth year student with fourth-year standing studying computer science, mathematics, and applied physics. Olagoke is also a co-president of Enactus. “The data confirmed that students needed help in this section.” Project Green Light, one of Enactus’ initiatives at Mount Allison, aims to address this issue.

“[Enactus] is a club with the goal of strengthening economic, social, and environmental sustainability in Sackville and beyond, through entrepreneurship,” said Anna Hardie, a fourth year economics student and co-president of Enactus. Hardie is also the project leader for Project Green Light. “The goal of Project Green Light is to raise awareness for correct waste-sorting on campus.” The initiative, which began last year and was first implemented in September, aimed to address a number of concerns about waste sorting on campus. Eighteen percent of surveyed students said they did not regularly sort their waste, and almost 50% indicated they were not sure what the difference between a recyclable and refundable was. However, almost 40% of students indicated that learning to properly sort was something that was very important to them.

Project Green Light has developed posters and educational social media posts that promote the three-way sorting standards of Eco360, the largest waste collection site in New Brunswick, in a simple, easy-to-read, and graphically inviting format. Students can now find these posters in residence and academic buildings on campus. “We also did some surveys to figure out what to put as the image, so they were reflective of what students were misplacing,” said Hardie. They wanted to know what students were consuming, and what their misconceptions were. Using this information, they tailored the posters to the needs and habits of Mount Allison students. “Proper waste sorting contributes to making the environment safer, healthier, and better for everyone,” said Olagoke. However, they also want people to know the economic impact of proper sorted waste. 

The university spends money on transporting waste to the Eco360 waste collection site, but if it’s not sorted properly, it can cost a lot of money in the academic year. “Wrongly sorted materials get rejected by the Eco360 waste sorting and collection facility,” he said. “Mount Allison is a school, but it’s also a business. If they can find any way to save money, they will jump on it. They can save money through the impact of our project.” Eco360’s website says that by “diverting more recyclable and compostable material from our landfill we extend the operational life of the landfill, thus reducing the footprint required for landfill space.” Eco360 separates recyclables, refundables, organics, and garbage, later burns landfill gas, a greater potential threat to global warming than carbon dioxide, to produce electricity. They use this electricity to help power the site, and sell the rest to NB Power. However, Eco360 can only use waste that is properly sorted. Project Green Light promotes the three-way sorting system used by Eco360—recycling, organics, and garbage. Educating students on this system contributes to a healthier local and global environment, increases Eco360’s efficiency, and helps the university save money.

Will O’Reilly, the Campus Services Supervisor who helps supervise the Grounds and Custodial Department, has been working with Enactus to help facilitate their impact on campus. He said, “We’re in the process of rolling the new signs out across campus, and at the same time we’re doing an audit to ensure waste sorting stations are adequate and in places that make the most sense.” Consistency is essential to the success of the project, he said. “Our community members come from all over the world and each place deals with their garbage differently… We’re giving people the confidence they are doing the right thing here.” Olagoke said that already, they can see some pact of Project Green Light on campus. “This year, even with less students on campus, [the university] already has been able to see the impact,” he said. “They are getting more items in the refundable bin, which is an increase in profit through items that can be refunded.” 

For now, the goal is to educate students on proper waste sorting procedures on campus, but Project Green Light has big plans for the future. Right now, they are working on a video series to be shown to new students at orientation. “We want to make sure we can tackle it from the start. If they can pick up the knowledge from residence, they can take that skill off campus,” said Olagoke. Eventually, Hardie and Olagoke hope to work with off-campus student housing and the town to educate all residents on the essentials and importance of waste sorting. “We could use Sackville, New Brunswick as an example to cities like Moncton or Dieppe,” said Olagoke. He would also like to see similar, kid-friendly programs implemented in schools. “By educating kids directly, we end up indirectly educating their parents.” Improved waste sorting on a large, community scale would have a tremendous impact on Eco360’s effectiveness, and on overall environmental health. 

“When we introduced this project, it was just as a starting point for how we reduce waste and find alternatives to waste,” said Hardie. “It’s good for students to know how to sort waste, but it would be better if that waste wasn’t there in the first place.” Future extensions might look at how to reduce waste in general on campus. In the meantime, continuous and consistent messaging is important. “We realize educating people is an ongoing process,” said Hardie. “People forget, or people move off campus where there are different rules, but we want to create good habits starting in residence.” O’Reilly said that students, staff, and faculty are vital to the success of Project Green Light. “Together we can shift the culture on campus from ambiguity around waste streaming to one where we are all confident that sorting is important and what we are doing is correct and making a difference,” he said.

            Project Green Light was honoured to place third in the Scotiabank Climate Change Challenge last year. Enactus Mount Allison is always open to more students becoming involved in their various projects. Their other projects include Enviroot, which uses food waste like potato peels to create safe and sustainable materials for flooring and tiles, and Textbook Osmosis, which saves used textbooks from landfills by reselling them at affordable prices or donating to developing countries.

Students can contact Enactus for more information on their projects on the Enactus Mount Allison Facebook page, their Instagram page (@enactusmta), or by email (enactus@mta.ca). Project Green Light’s signs are posted in many locations on campus, including in residence. More information on Eco360 and their sorting system is available at www.eco360.ca or their app, available on the App Store.

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