Greening York: ZeroWaste is coming to your office

It’s Earth Day and York University is launching ZeroWaste, a new campaign to reduce the amount of trash produced by the University that goes into landfill. Comprised of two initiatives, ZeroWaste is designed to help the University recycle more of its waste and stop harmful cleaning chemicals from entering the environment. 

Above: A concept of what York’s waste disposal trucks will look like once ZeroWaste is fully implemented

Each year in North America, more than 6.2 billion pounds of cleaning chemicals and 36 billion plastic garbage can liners are consumed. Many of these are manufactured using petroleum products and have an enduring negative impact on the biosphere.

ZeroWaste is York’s effort to reduce its institutional footprint. The campaign builds on two successful pilots that were launched in the York Research Tower last August, in which building occupants managed their own recycling and trash disposal, and "green" cleaning products were introduced. (See YFile, Aug. 13, 2009.)

Starting Monday, June 7, custodial staff will no longer service office waste and recycling bins. Instead York community members will tote their own trash and recycling to communal tri-bins (three-sectioned recycling bins) located in common areas. Each kitchenette will also be equipped with a small green bin for organics.

Currently, recycled materials at York’s Keele campus account for 59 per cent of the institution’s total waste, and the goal for ZeroWaste is to reach 65 per cent by 2013. “This equals more than 200 metric tonnes of diverted waste over a year, which is comparable to stopping 10 large transport trucks fully loaded with waste from heading off to the landfill,” says Bob Smith, director of custodial, grounds and Glendon Facilities Services for Campus Services & Business Operations (CSBO).

ZeroWaste relies on University community members taking responsibility for the recyclables and waste that they generate during the day. To make the campaign work, the tri-bin and green cleaning initiative launched in the research tower will expand to all of the 90 buildings on the Keele campus. That means giving up individual office garbage collection in favour of communal tri-bins; using kitchenette organic collection bins (which will be inspected daily and serviced as required) for lunch leftovers; and the roll-out across the University of green cleaning products.

With the start of ZeroWaste, those black desk-side waste bins in offices and work areas will no longer be outfitted with a plastic liner. Everyone will be encouraged to take their unused drinks, soggy tea bags and leftover sandwiches to the common kitchens. Organic waste will go into kitchen collectors or to outside digesters. This initiative alone will save more than 30,000 plastic bags from going into the landfill, says Smith.

ZeroWaste has numerous benefits for both the University and the environment. The program not only saves money, it also frees custodial staff from emptying thousands of individual desk-side garbage and recycling containers. The time saved will then be redirected to dusting and cleaning work surfaces, carpets, kitchenettes and bathrooms – a win-win for air quality, health and the environment.

“Every time you use a tri-bin properly you save the University money,” says Smith. “If we all participate in the ZeroWaste initiative, our custodial employees will spend more time cleaning, which will lead to improved air quality in your work environment.”

Under the green cleaning program, custodial staff will use Green Seal products such as vacuums with HEPA filtration technology and GEL Cell batteries, which have a longer life and reduced off gassing for better air quality. They will also use the same environmentally responsible cleaning products that are used to keep the research tower spotless. These products are much less corrosive, with fewer airborne (volatile) contaminants, compared to traditional formulations such as bleach. The enzymes they contain continue to destroy unwanted germs for a longer period of time, which translates into a cleaner environment and reduced product usage.

You can help the program reach its goal by doing the following:

  • Dispose of your organics into the NEW organic bin located in all kitchenettes.
  • Do not put organics in your office waste bin.
  • Keep in mind that your office garbage will no longer be collected, and empty your office recycling and waste bins into centrally located tri-bins.

You can also help the University be successful by making sure that all of your waste is placed in the appropriate tri-bin section:

  • newspaper and office paper (not including used paper coffee cups or plates) will go into one section of the tri-bin;
  • cans, bottles and other minor plastics, including plastic forks, plastic bags and bottles that have been emptied of any liquid, will go into another section of the tri-bin;
  • wrappers and packaging that are soiled with food waste or not recyclable should go into the waste section of the tri-bin;
  • all organic waste goes into a separate kitchennette bin or digester. 

A waste-less lunch that makes use of reusable containers and a coffee mug will go a long way to reducing trips to the tri-bins and kitchenettes. Everyone is also encouraged to take advantage of York’s other recycling options.

By printing on both sides of the paper and reusing office paper for note taking, York community members have also been doing their part to reduce their use of some of the 4.5 billion pounds of paper products created from 30 million trees.

By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor