Could waste in landfills be reduced by 95 percent? Santa Clara University is working toward that goal and every employee is contributing starting with those bins under every employee’s desk.
The University’s new bin-within-a-bin system, which began in 2009, has changed habits as well as reduced the amount of trash the University’s sends to the landfill. Almost all employees now have those blue recycling bins with much-smaller black waste bins at their desks. Those in the Alumni Science Building are the only exception and they’ll make the switch by the end of 2012. Custodians empty the recycling bins, which accept paper, plastic, aluminum, and glass. No is sorting involved as was required under the old system. Employees empty their own landfill waste bins.
Santa Clara also added composting containers in break areas near kitchens. The compostable waste goes to a commercial composting facility. To further reduce waste, liners in trashcans got the boot. The liners, it turned out, accounted for a large percentage of SCU’s trash.
The effort was designed to make recycling less of a choice for employees, and more of a way of office life. “For sustainability-related decisions at SCU, we need to make sure that the standard practice is a sustainable practice, not the exception,” says Lindsey Cromwell Kalkbrenner, director of the Office of Sustainability.
The system “makes every employee think about the amount of waste they produce on a daily basis,” Kalkbrenner says.
Employees have largely warmed to the effort, after a bit of resistance at the start. “Most people really enjoy actually being engaged in Santa Clara’s sustainability initiatives,” Kalkbrenner says.
The initiative certainly appears to be making a difference. Waste per campus user has dropped to 332 pounds per year in 2011 from 404 pounds per year in 2006. The percent of the University’s waste that is recycled or composted has gone up to almost 24 percent in 2011 from about 16 percent in 2009.
Now that all employees have the new bins, 2012 is on track to be even better.