Newsflash: Winter sorting is complete. Onward and upward!
Megan's winter quarter trash sorts are now complete! For 7 weeks, we sorted trash, recycling, and compost bins collected from 2 floors of one of UW's residence halls. We've also looked at the results, and they are very interesting! We'll post at least one report detailing sorting results on the Winter/Spring 2014 section of the "Our Work" page as soon as we have it written.
For spring quarter, we're moving on to the second phase of Megan's project, which involves collecting survey data from UW dorms to compare with the results of our sorting. Analysis of survey results will be posted spring quarter, as will additional discussion of how these results augment our winter quarter sorting data.
With the close of winter 2014 sorting, UWGP sorting operations are on hiatus until further notice, but this doesn't mean that we've stopped looking for volunteers! Anyone interested in working with UWGP is still encouraged to contact us for more information.
The UW Garbology Project (UWGP) is an all-volunteer organization created by students at the University of Washington. Our goal is to educate students about the intersections between archaeology, modern culture, and waste while finding ways to improve our local strategies for waste management. We attempt to achieve this goal by engaging students in the direct study of the waste we produce on campus to gain insights about the waste issues confronting the UW community as a whole. We work in partnership with the UW Archaeology Program (in the Department of Anthropology) and UW Recycling, and our past and present work has involved collaboration with a number of organizations at UW and beyond, including those listed below. Our current work is funded by a small grant provided by the University of Washington Campus Sustainability Fund. For more information about our current and past work, please explore the tabs above, contact us directly, check us out on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.
What is garbology?
Garbology, as coined by Bill Rathje in the early 1970’s, is the study of modern human waste using archaeological methods. Its practice is somewhat rare compared to other types of archaeology, but nonetheless a group of practitioners have been doing garbology since its inception. It might seem strange that archaeologists would study garbage, but in fact nearly all archaeology involves the study of garbage… it’s just usually a little older and a little less smelly than the garbage we examine for the UW Garbology Project.
The Prezi below provides a decent general introduction to garbology as a topic by (roughly) situating it within the context of larger archaeological interests, laying out some key terms, and outlining some of garbology's core objectives. It doesn't fit perfectly with the UWGP's vision, but it does provide a useful first pass at the subject of garbology in general, and it is skillfully composed.
Garbology by Kaitlyn McCaul and Abigail Miller (original location here).
In FY 2012, the UW sent about 43% of its waste to the landifll. The rest (57%) was reused (through programs like UW Surplus), recycled, composted, or disposed of in some other way. That 57% is a pretty good rate (and the UW is a very green campus overall), but we still need to push to improve it, since UW is still sending over 4,900 annual tons of waste to landfills. Such improvement can be tough to achieve, and over the past couple of years substantial gains in waste diversion rates have proven elusive. In fact, from FY2011 to FY2012 UW's overall diversion rates didn't improve at all, and this situation will persist until we do something about it.
To take action, the best thing we can do is to systematically encourage more composting on campus, since our data make it clear that most of what we send to landfills is compostable. In fact, we've sampled in a number of locations across campus (and from a range of bin types), and we currently estimate that at least 60% (and perhaps over 70%) of campus trash is compostable. This means that about 25% of UW's annual waste stream -- and about 49% of UW's annual waste disposal costs -- are due solely to the compostable materials we send to the landfill. If this portion were properly composted instead of landfilled, our campus could divert as much as 80% (up from 57%) of its total annual trash from landfills, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process. Now THAT would be a green campus!
So how do we get UW citizens to compost more? We're working on it, and we could use your help!
*Diverted waste data derived from UW Recycling's annual reports from FYs 2011 and 2012 as well as
our own results (summer 2012, fall 2012, in addition to spring 2013 initial results).
How can garbology help?
Systematic study of our garbage can teach us things about our waste systems that we can't learn any other way. For example, we'd never know about the composition of what we're sending to landfills -- and the fact that most if this stuff could be composted or recycled -- unless the trash itself had been sampled, sorted, and studied. We'd never know that most of what ends up in campus trash cans is, in fact, compostable. We'd never know that doing a better job composting will make the biggest single contribution to reducing the amount of trash we send to landfills.
Without this type of study, we'd therefore be making decisions about how we manage UW's waste in absence of a good deal of pertinent information. As such, the primary research aim of the UW Garbology Project is to help generate this type of information as an aid to the decision-makers on campus. In doing so, we can help identify our biggest challenges in managing campus waste. We can give a factual basis for the targeted development of new policies, and we can lend factual support to advocacy efforts. We can also help test whether changes in waste management policies at UW are having the desired effects, and we can help evaluate the fiscal and environmental costs and benefits of our current and future waste management strategies.
Over time, it is therefore our hope that our systematic study of campus trash will therefore translate into less waste, more efficient waste management, and reduced waste-related costs for UW. Along the way, we also hope to help educate our participants -- as well as the larger UW community -- about our trash, since we feel that this type of education and outreach will ultimately determine the success of UW's efforts to waste less. Lastly, we aim to help create tools, systems, and programs to make waste disposal easier and more efficient for users, as well as more sustainable overall. Our work, our blogs (official and participants'), our calendar of events, and our collection of additional resources reflect this multi-faceted commitment to local research, collaboration, outreach, innovation, and resource-building, and we hope you find them informative, engaging, and thought-provoking.
...and dozens of others!
Want to get involved?
There are lots of ways to volunteer, and some UW students may even be eligible for independent study credits. Contact Jack Johnson (firstname.lastname@example.org) for details.
Where does it all go?
Columbia Ridge Landfill.
The video below shows the results of MIT researchers' attempts to follow the trail of Seattle trash once it is discarded (their website is here). The results may be somewhat surprising, since many of the things we throw away eventually get transported across the country for processing.
Still, the majority of UW's trash is eventually shipped by train to the Columbia Ridge Landfill in northeastern Oregon, where it is deposited along with most of Seattle's municipal trash. Almost 700,000 tons of King County trash are shipped to this landfill annually. Using recent U.S. Census data, that's about 700 pounds of annual landfill trash per King County resident.
In fiscal year 2012, the UW alone sent over 4,900 tons of solid waste to the landfill. That's about 212 pounds of annual landfill waste for every student and faculty member (although this doesn't account for the thousands of UW staff members). Further, we paid over $1,100,000 in landfill costs last year -- enough money to fund 90 full scholarships for UW students. We also recycled or composted over 6,500 tons, resulting in a savings of over $1,200,000 in disposal costs. Ultimately, students and taxpayers foot the bill for these costs, so it helps us to send less to landfills by recycling and composting more!
Tracking the movement of Seattle's trash with GPS