York U post-doctoral fellow creates ‘Waste Wiki’, an online data hub for waste research

A York University post-doctoral fellow with the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES), Calvin Lakhan, has found that the information on the topic of waste management may be harder to locate than other subject areas, but aims to correct this oversight with a timely and comprehensive data bank with several user friendly features.

Calvin Lakhan

He, along with his Faculty sponsor Mark Winfield, has developed a “Waste Wiki” to better connect various stakeholders in the field, and to more broadly disseminate findings related to this area of research. As the tagline succinctly puts it, “When you think of garbage, think of us”.

This Wiki is a University-run, University-operated research project that attempts to bridge the gap between academia, industry and government in issues surrounding waste.

It is a free, open access platform for data, waste-related literature and analytical tools available to the public. The philosophy behind the creation of the site is basic but crucial, said Lakhan.

“This effort is fundamentally premised on two principles: The first being accessibility – any stakeholder, big or small, should have the ability to access research. The second principle is knowledge mobilization – how do I take this information, and share it in a way that is practical, understandable, and useful to a non-academic audience,” he said.

At present, the Waste Wiki is home to thousands of studies on waste, and provides users with the ability to access and interface with data from national stewardship programs for a range of residential and commercial waste streams. It is the largest online reference library in Canada to concentrate solely on studies devoted to the subject of waste and recycling. Including more than 13 subject areas, the waste collection contains over 4,300 studies as of March 2017. The entries are updated monthly with an end goal of adding grey literature, as well as consulting reports to help supplement the linked academic studies on the site.

“In a world where time is the most precious commodity of all, few have the time to read through 20-plus pages of (often) highly technical jargon,” Lakhan said. “What most individuals really want are just the key factors and/or take away points.”

To uphold its central premise of knowledge mobilization, the Waste Wiki features a section called “5 Slides or Less: Research Snapshots” where papers are summarized into a five or fewer PowerPoint slides.

“It is both an exercise in brevity, and an opportunity to share our research with a broader non-academic audience,” said Lakhan.

Another prominent component of the site is Waste Wiki 101, a series of short papers/discussion on a variety of key subjects related to waste management which is updated on a biweekly schedule. According to Lakhan, “In many ways, it is almost a literature review of the broader topics in waste, and attempts to distill key concepts and theories into a short two to three page document.”

Individuals who feel there is an important topic/issue they would like to discuss with the user base should forward their comments to Waste Wiki 101, and such contributions are most definitely welcomed.  For more, visit wastewiki.info.yorku.ca.

Submitted by Peter Duerr, assistant librarian, Scott Library

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