Humphrey pilot informs future organics collection

organics, glass and paper bins

By Annemarie Pottorf

The waste collection system in University buildings - commonly called the quad system by our custodial teams - recently saw some big changes at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Waste Recovery Services introduced a pilot program to recycle organic materials in the building, which meant the quad system changed to contain a paper bin, a bin for cans and aluminum bottles, a waste bin, and a brand new organics bin. According to Dana Donatucci, director of Waste Recovery Services, and Ruthann Manlet, Facilities Team Manager at the Humphrey, valuable lessons were learned that will help as we plan for expanded organics collection, a program that will move the University toward zero waste.

Some of the biggest changes include staggered scheduling of collection. To minimize any odor or bacteria growth, the team collected organics  daily from the centralized bin, while trash was collected three times a week. There was also the question of the can liners: traditional plastic waste bags aren’t compostable, and compostable bags are five times the cost. The team decided to innovate: instead of using the entire organics bin, a small five gallon bucket would sit inside the bins to hold the organic waste, reducing the chance of spills, leaks, smells, or other difficulties for customers and custodial staff.

Staff training and education were key to the rollout of the program at the Humphrey. The team learned that early communication to foster awareness of the changes will be critical to success in future rollouts. As a result, the waste management team will be working with the Sustainability Office on department outreach. Together they hosted the first “Donuts to Dirt” event at the Food Operations Building, where free donuts and coffee enticed staff to learn how the new system works and how food waste becomes valuable compost.

What do these changes mean for waste at the U? Adding an organics waste option to the quad system allows us to visualize the waste we create every day, by placing the responsibility for sorting in our hands. This system also works to generate support and visibility for organics collection and recycling, as users experience the convenience and ease of participating. Plus, this process helps the university reduce the cost of waste disposal, and divert waste from landfills and incinerators! For every pound of waste that is diverted, two pounds of CO2 are diverted, leading us closer to our emissions reduction and zero-waste goals.