Trash task: Waste audit shows most garbage at schools could be recycled or composted

School district trying to reduce the amount of organics in trash.

Godson elementary students completed a trash audit Tuesday.



Even before the milk cartons, discarded sandwiches and unpeeled oranges were separated from the headphones, vacuum cleaner bag, and reams of paper towel, the smell emanating from Tuesday’s Godson elementary garbage audit testified to the challenge facing the Abbotsford school district.

As the City of Abbotsford prepares to rid its garbage trucks of organic materials by 2015, the school district – which uses a private contractor – is also looking to divert its compostable waste from landfills

But the audit of a day’s worth of trash by Godson’s green team and mentors from Robert Bateman secondary showed most waste produced by students can be recycled or composted.

In just 45 minutes, after the removal of organics, plastics, and other recyclables, a heaping pile of garbage had dwindled to just a fraction of its original size. The results were in line with previous estimates that suggested more than 70 per cent of all school district trash could be diverted from landfills.

The district has engaged a contractor at seven local schools to begin collecting compostables this week, and the exercise came a day before organics bins donated by the city were placed in each classroom.

If successful, the project would dramatically decrease the amount of trash created in local schools.

“All food waste, all paper towel, any used paper products with food on them, pizza boxes: it can all be composted,” said school district energy specialist Julianne Pickrell. “That represents about 30 per cent of the waste in a school.”

It may be even more. Last week, a similar garbage audit at Alexander elementary showed that more than 80 per cent of the school’s trash was either compostable or recyclable. At Abbotsford Middle, of 44.25 kilograms collected, barely one-tenth was actually garbage. By weight,  two-thirds was compostable.

The audits aren’t just a statistical survey. After the students finished their work at Godson on Tuesday, they presented their findings to other classes as a way of reinforcing what should – and what should not – be thrown away.

“It’s one thing to hear the numbers, but to have a visual of it is really impactful,” said Pickrell. “To visually see it, you get a lot of reactions.”

Only one kilogram of the more than 20 kilograms of garbage collected at the school Tuesday was actual garbage. The rest was mostly compost.

For Godson green team member Macaylee Godin, the event illustrated how much more can be done to reduce the waste heading to landfills.

“I would think that people would recycle [more],” she said.

Godin said she joined the green team to help make the world a better place. But she expressed disappointed in her school and hopes the audit will prompt students to recycle and compost more.

“I am ashamed with how much paper we have that can be recycled.”

Another audit will be conducted in the spring, after Godson and other schools have been diverting organics for several months.

While the project will cost a little to get up and running, the district hopes to break even over the long-term.

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