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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Waste Statistics Reveal Trash Contamination in Dorms

<yclable and compostable items contaminate 90 percent of dorm trash bins, according to Anthony Hill-Abercrombie ’14 and Jackson Van Fleet’s ’15 survey of student waste habits.

“My philosophy is what gets measured is what gets done,” Hill-Abercrombie said. “People are likely to change behavior if they are being watched. If people know the implications, they are more thoughtful.”

He hopes that the data collected will be used to improve waste disposal by increasing student awareness and giving Custodial Services and the Sustainability Office information on which to base future investments.

Since last spring, Hill-Abercrombie and Van Fleet have counted the number of trash bins contaminated by various items, including food waste and plastic. In the fall, they produced a report, which is available on the Sustainability Office website.

Over winter break, Hill-Abercrombie worked for the Sustainability Office, producing posters of the results. These posters are on every floor of the doors that were studied. Currently, Hill-Abercrombie is overseeing data collection in all the dorms.

According to Martha Larson, Manager of Campus Energy and Sustainability, Hill-Abercrombie and Van Fleet took “the opportunity to combine their student employment responsibilities with their academic knowledge from statistics class.”

The idea for this project came from Hill-Abercrombie and Van Fleet’s job as custodial assistants. They both spent the last two years taking out dorm trash on the weekends.
“I was set back by the grotesque contamination evident in the trash bins,” Hill-Abercrombie said.

In addition, last year, one of his classes visited a recycling plant where the workers stood in front of a conveyer belt sorting through trash for recyclables. “It was an unpleasant and jarring experience that reminded me of the huge hidden costs of landfills.”

After data is collected on all the dorms, Hill-Abercrombie hopes the information will be included in Climate Action Week so students start to dispose of waste properly.
Larson also emphasized this point. “We hope students will become more aware of the tremendous waste sorting, waste reduction, and waste diversion efforts at Carleton and be motivated to do their part,” she said. “It’s one place where individual actions make a strong contribution to a larger goal.”

Most importantly, he looks forward to getting more feedback from students on the lack of waste resources, such as whether or not there are enough recycle bins in the dorms. This information can be used by the Sustainability Office to determine where to allocate future resources.

For instance, the Sustainability Office aims to increase signage and education and to place three-bin sorting receptacles in the dorms.

In the future, Larson said, “We hope to eventually get to the point where proper waste sorting is habitual, people in the Carleton community don’t even have to think about it—they just know what belongs where and they care enough to sort correctly.”

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