Talking trash: some good news

UCAR outpaces Boulder in waste diversion rate

December 3, 2013 | When it comes to recycling and composting, UCAR doesn’t merely keep up with eco-conscious Boulder; we’re actually leading the way. Results from a Mesa Lab audit show where the organization’s waste diversion is finding the most success and where we could do better still.

On average, about 20% of the waste at Boulder businesses is either recycled or composted. In contrast, out of 693 pounds of waste analyzed at ML during the two-day audit in June, nearly two-thirds—65.27%—was recycled or composted.

“We’re more than head and shoulders above the city’s commercial properties, on average,” says sustainability program specialist Kay Gazaway. “I’m really proud of where we are.”

The ML results are consistent with a 2011 audit conducted at the FL campus, which showed that about 68% of all waste was being successfully diverted. Kay and assistant Tanya Chaisitti are now analyzing the two sets of results, looking for common threads.

Tanya Chaisitti and Kay Gazaway at recycling station
Tanya Chaisitti and Kay Gazaway (Facilities Management & Sustainability). (©UCAR, Photo by Carlye Calvin. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)

Take-out without the throw-out

One big factor in our success is the prevalence of zero-waste options in the ML and FL cafeterias. These include take-away containers for both hot and cold food.

“Our hot cups are 100% compostable, which isn’t always the case at your local coffee shop,” says Kay. “Even our straws are compostable.”

Except for cans and bottles, she adds, “all of the waste from your lunch goes in a single compost bin, which makes it super-simple.”

As for recycling cardboard, we’re doing a stellar job, with none found in the trash at either site. “We appreciate everyone’s focus on separating out the cardboard for recycling,” says Kay. “Our custodians do an excellent job of catching any stray pieces of cardboard they find in the trash and redirecting it to recycling.”

The next level

At both ML and FL, there’s still potential for significant progress. Roughly half of the trash headed for the landfill at both sites could have been composted or recycled.  Doing so would bring our diversion rates above 80%.

“The diversion goal in the UCAR Sustainability Management Plan is to get to 75%,” says Kay. “I think it’s reachable. It reminds me of losing the last five pounds when you’re on a diet. You’ve made the biggest gains at the start, and then you have to tweak things to get the last few percent. Is there any little piece we can do a step better?”

Across our campuses, kitchenettes are one place where progress could happen quickly and easily. “Paper towels are compostable, but we’re finding lots of paper towels in the kitchenette trash,” says Kay. “We need to do some more education.” She’s also hoping that our janitorial contracts will eventually include composting of paper towels from bathrooms.

What makes our organization a recycling standout compared to others in Boulder? According to Kay, it’s closely related to grassroots work done a decade ago to establish our current program.

“People started things as volunteers, and our organization embraced them. Now there’s a culture behind it. I think it’s become the norm in doing our day-to-day work. The resources and systems are solidly in place, and it’s easy to do the right thing.”