ICAW 2023: DEP Grant: 1st waste audit complete

For our final post of ICAW, we share updates on our DEP grant project to study and test innovate new methods for using, collecting, and recycling compostable plastic products.

As part of our assessment on how well several types of compostable plastic products break down in our composting systems (SCRAPPY followed by piles or windrows), we first need to better understand our post-consumer retail waste stream. Our goals are to:

  • streamline and cut down on the number of single-use serviceware items (The fewer kinds of serviceware, the easier it is to encourage proper recycling)
  • pick better product alternatives that are certified compostable (preferably PFAS free too) so we can test them in our systems

So our first step in this journey was to conduct a waste audit of everything consumers were putting in trash and recycling at retail dining. We selected the largest venue – Frist Gallery – and one of the smaller cafes on campus as representative locations. Over the course of two days in mid-April, our Campus Dining and Sanitation staff helped us collect and transport the waste materials so they could be audited by our contractor, MSW Consultants.

While we are still waiting for the full audit results, we share some details and preliminary findings in the photo essay below (trigger warning for anyone who doesn’t want to see the food waste):

Above: Audit sorting table. Contents of bags were dumped here and individual items were identified by MSW staff and placed into the appropriate sorting bin. Bins get weighed after so we know the material breakdown (by weight) of the entire stream
Sorted certified compostable bowls that are already compostable in SCRAPPY
Sorted UNCERTIFIED compostable serviceware that has the potential to be compostable in SCRAPPY if swapped for an alternative
Certified compostables and organics from the audit that were sent for composting at SCRAPPY

Overall we captured a lot of waste – 250 lbs alone of organics (wasted food & molded fiber compostable serviceware that we know composts well) went to SCRAPPY directly after the sort across both days.

Now we will be able to better understand our waste composition and how we can divert as much as possible toward recycling/composting over the next few months when we revamp the waste sorting area in Frist over the summer and fall. Stay tuned for more progress updates!

Happy Composting!

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