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The visual power of waste

We’re big on waste sorts around here. 

And it’s for good reason. There’s nothing like looking at bins full of unrecyclable paper coffee cups from Seattle’s Best, Starbucks and Stumptown to make you rethink the importance of toting around a durable, reusable cup. 

Last October, we hosted a waste sort in the breezeway between Neuberger and Smith to highlight the issue of waste and motivate interest in Jeremy Irons’ documentary “TRASHED” that we screened that evening.

But more than a promotional stunt, that waste sort—thanks to the experts at PSU Community Environmental Services—was a well-documented assessment of how one corner of the campus is doing when it comes to waste. 

Taking a look at the assessment report provided by CES is a sobering reminder that despite the many strides our campus is taking to make our community part of the solution for a livable future, we still have areas—as close as the nearest waste bin—that could use our attention. 

On Oct. 2, the first week of fall term classes, staff from CES, the Campus Sustainability Office, and the Sustainability Leadership Center, donned protective suits and sorted 221.8 pounds of trash—half the amount generated in one 24-hour period—at PSU’s Urban Center complex. 

Less than half of the stuff sorted, just 38 percent, was trash that wasn’t recyclable or otherwise recoverable. A huge chunk of the sample, 46 percent, could have been composted. A full five percent of the garbage haul was made up of those pesky disposable coffee cups. And seven percent was mixed paper and cardboard that could have been tossed into one of the recycling bins that dot the entire campus. 

As winter term kicks into high gear, it’s a good reminder for all of us: We can do better. Stay tuned for more news about kicking up composting on campus and look for a waste sort outside the Art Building on Monday, Jan. 27 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. 

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