September 21, 2020

BY WENDY CZAKO-MAH

How well do you know what goes in those blue bins? Do you find the signs a bit confusing?

At Conestoga College there are three very visible categories of recycling; paper, glass and plastic, and organics.Mar. 1 2013, recycling (11)

Almost invisible to most college students is a woman doing a job that most of us are hoping to avoid: collecting recycling and garbage. But, she too has dreams. If you asked her about those dreams, Rhonda Higgins would tell you how she loves to sing country music.

An employee of the college for the past four years, Higgins works in Waste management and is responsible for emptying the recycling bins. Higgins, who still has a bit of the east coast in her voice, says one of her biggest issues is that the students don’t take the time to put the right items in the correct bins. For example, the organics bin is strictly for food items. According to Higgins, students throw everything in there. If there is more than five per cent of what would be considered garbage, the whole bin goes into the garbage. Higgins estimates it’s usually 90 per cent. Of all the organic bins on campus, the main cafeteria is the worst. It usually ends up in the garbage as she is not allowed to sort it, even if the amount is small.

When asked what would make a difference to help improve the recycling process at the college Higgins was at a loss. “There are signs next to each one telling you what goes there,” she said. “Maybe some kind of presentation? If  CSI could get involved? Student Life has the Respect Campaign and I guess that is respect too. Maybe they could mix that in with their campaigns.”

Most recycling is emptied twice a day with the exception of organics, which is done twice a week. According to Higgins, a least twice a week the recycling  goes straight into the garbage. When it comes to paper bins, students throw coffee in with the paper and this contaminates the entire bin and it becomes garbage.

“The students don’t actually think about the person emptying the bins and coffee going everywhere,” she said.

What is even more difficult is the fact that Higgins has read the information board postings next to Housekeeping and the Waste Management department. She points out how much of what we don’t do hurts more than just the environment. It kills animals that ingest the plastic.

“I don’t really think about it that much,” said Christina Wege, a first-year student in interior decorating.

John Anderson, a first-year student in fitness and health promotion, said, “I make sure that I recycle. A lot of people will go to the garbage instead, just because you can’t see a recycling bin around,”

Ryan Connell, a programmer for Student Life,  said that for a number of reasons, they take on a more supportive role with the recycling program. They talk about Green Week initiatives within the campaign, and they participate in community clean-up initiatives with the neighbourhood association. There have also been various green initiatives that have been started but nothing permanent.

One of the biggest issues, Connell said, is that not everyone comes from communities where recycling is a top priority. So recyclers who get annoyed when others don’t recycle have to remember that not everyone comes from this area.

“A good example for me is, I grew up in Thunder Bay,” said Connell. “Thunder Bay does not have the recycling programs that we have down here. It’s still a huge culture shock when I go back at Christmas to see and visit my family. There’s no regard or knowledge about recycling and how to do it. There’s no curbside recycling programs. So, we have to recognize at Conestoga that we have such a large number of students who are international, as well as not from our area.”

Heading the recycling program at the college is Jana Vodicka from Housekeeping Services. The college has bins for paper, mixed (plastic, glass), organics, and garbage in the hallways, classrooms, washrooms etc. However, organics are only collected in the cafeteria, staff lunchroom, the Sanctuary and Tim Hortons. More bins are being added as the college grows. Eventually they want all four bins in each area to fulfill all needs.

Probably not common knowledge to most is the specialized bins the college has for hazardous waste, and through CSI, electronic and battery waste disposal. Health and Safety looks after the syringes and florescent lights to see that they are properly recycled because of things like mercury.

Specialized programs in the trades also have recycling for all of their scraps or waste materials. The weight of all scrap materials is monitored so that the program knows if there is a need to increase or decrease bins.

Coffee cups are lined with PLA (polylactic acid), considered to be a biodegradable plastic. Not all recycling facilities have the means to separate that from the paper. Recyclable is a broad term that doesn’t always mean we can. What it can mean is that a plant in New York can recycle it, but here in Ontario, we can’t.

“For the coffee cups, we can actually put them into our organics bins, and we would love to do that because we generate such a large volume of them, said Vodicka.

In fact, coffee cups currently make up eight per cent of the garbage in the cafeteria and in classrooms at Doon, and 27 per cent of garbage in the hallway bins, according to a 2011 waste audit.

However, Vodicka believes the college community is going in the right direction and through education and time it can only get better.

One of the current leaders in the green race is the University of Ottawa. According to Vodicka, it is a great example of where the college could eventually be. The university’s goal is to be completely green and become a “Zero Waste Campus” that diverts all waste.

The final step in the Conestoga recycling process ends in Waterloo at the Waste Management site. According to Dave Johnstone, supervisor, the plant receives paper products and plastics in one building and garbage and composting in other areas on site. Paper products come in daily and are scooped up and shipped to a Niagara plant where they are sorted. Plastics are sorted, bailed and shipped  to purchasing companies.  Green bin waste is shipped to a Guelph site for processing and the garbage is emptied in a landfill in Waterloo.

If you happen to be someone that doesn’t believe it makes a difference, just ask any member of Waste Management. They are currently launching a promotional green bin campaign called Feed the Soil. It makes great soil for landscaping and is very useful for farmer’s fields.

“The interesting thing, and it gives us all hope in Waste Management, is when the blue box program started it was the very same way,” Johnstone said. “The initial articles in regards to recycling were very negative, but as time moved on they (residents) felt inclined socially, that they should do it too.”

He’s hoping the same thing happens with green bins.