This seems like an easy question, but the answer is actually somewhat complicated. Essentially, there is no such thing as waste, only objects that you no longer have a use for. But that doesn’t mean that those items still aren’t useful.
There are two major categories of waste that we deal with at the University of Ottawa; hazardous waste and domestic waste. Hazardous waste is potentially dangerous and is handled by the Office of Risk Management. Domestic waste is essentially all other forms of waste and is handled by Sanitary Services.
How we handle our waste is important. You have probably heard of the 3R’s (reduce, reuse, and recycle). There is a reason why they are mentioned in exactly this order; because it is the preferred way of dealing with waste.
- Reducing waste before it is created is the ideal, this takes less resources to manage the waste.
- Reuse is also great because it requires very little energy. For example, over time it takes less energy to clean a reusable mug than to create disposable ones.
- Recycling is tricky. Often people mix up recycling and reuse, but they are not the same thing. Recycling means converting waste material into something new. When you recycle an aluminum can, it isn’t reused. It is melted down and turned into either a new can or something else. This requires a lot of energy but it is still worthwhile.
- Composting is another form of recycling but it has the added benefit of preventing climate damage. When organic waste is sent to landfill, it is buried and creates methane (which is 20 times worse than CO2).
How does waste impact uOttawa?
One of the biggest impacts of waste at the University of Ottawa is financial, specifically the cost of handling waste. The more materials we create, the more work we need to do to manage that waste. For example, if you print a piece of paper and toss it out at your desk, that paper is brought from your desk to a central recycling counter by sanitary staff. That is eventually transported to a holding area until it can be picked up. Eventually that paper is brought outside to a truck that transports it to a recycling centre. At every step, there are costs to pay staff or external companies.
What is uOttawa doing about it?
The University of Ottawa has a variety of programs to address waste all over the campus.
- Reduction is all about stopping waste before it happens. The zero waste dining hall in the University is a great example of that. There is no packaging and all the consumer waste is compostable.
- Reuse programs are very popular on campus. Programs like the and the are available to staff and students to help them get the stuff they might need. Food Services encourages reuse by offering a discount on coffee around campus when you bring you own mug.
- Recycling is available all over the campus, with over 20 recycling streams accessible. Recycling stations are available to the general public for common items (metal, plastic, glass, compost, etc). There are also special streams for harder to recycle items (electronics, pens, wooden pallets).
What you can do about waste on campus
Although it is not always possible to completely eliminate waste, there are many small things you can do to follow the 3R’s.
- When ordering food for an event, ask for reusable dishware and cutlery.
- When you have office supplies you don’t need anymore, ask colleagues if they can use them or contact Sanitary Services to donate them.
- Visit the Free Store to see if they have items you need before buying new.
- Avoid using the printer whenever possible. On average, 40% of all paper is disposed of after just one day!