Students organize trash sort for #KatiesGoGreen challenge

Strolling through the quad on a certain Thursday afternoon in April may have left you with the feeling of possibilities heavy in the air.

Or trash. Maybe it was the smell of trash. There’s a good reason for that.

As part of the #KatiesGoGreen Initiative, the Student Senate Sustainability Committee held a Spring Trash Sort on April 25. Members of the committee and other student volunteers gathered on the north lawn of the Coeur de Catherine at 2 p.m. and spent the afternoon sorting trash from environmental treasures better destined for composting or recycling.

Facilities staff collected that day’s garbage from around campus while students fastened a tarp to the lawn. Then, equipped with face masks, gloves, and aprons, students bravely dug into the trash and began sorting into three bins: compost, recycle, and trash.

In the short span of 90 minutes, volunteers sorted the 53.7 pounds of garbage and found that 80% could have avoided the landfill. Elizabeth (Liz) Axberg ‘20, Student Senate Environmental Issues Co-Chair, reported that 48% was compostable, 32% was recyclable, and only 20% was actually trash (categorized as having no other option than to be dumped at a landfill).

Graph courtesy of Liz Axberg '20

Of the 53.7 pounds of waste sorted, 25.75 pounds was compostable, 17.2 pounds was recyclable, and 10.75 pounds was trash. Graph courtesy of Liz Axberg ‘20.

The distribution statistics from the Trash Sort suggest that although the same options to dispose of waste in compost, recycle, or trash bins exist in the cafeteria, consumers may not know just how much can be reused. Trash sent to landfills takes anywhere from decades to centuries to decompose. Anything we can do to reduce trash and correctly recycle helps us work towards a more environmentally responsible campus.

Axberg wants the St. Kate’s community to know that all to-go boxes and “Earthchoice” brand containers and cups are compostable. However, these containers must be placed in the revolving dish receptacle so they can be properly cleaned out and composted by cafeteria staff.

“Also, invest in the new green reusable clamshells!” suggests Axberg. A one-time purchase of a $5 sticker for your St. Kate’s ID notifies cashiers that you participate in this reusable container program. All used containers can be placed on the dish receptacle before diners grab a freshly-cleaned food container in the cafeteria.

“This trash sort was really great because we were able to get a larger sample size than our previous trash sort,” said Axberg. Her hope is that the sorting event next Fall will garner even more participation from faculty, staff, and students across all areas of study.

For more eco-friendly tips and to see how St. Kate’s is going green, visit the #KatiesGoGreen Initiative.

Story and photos by Amy Mullowney '19