Today, York lifts the lid on its new ZeroWaste initiative

For the past month, the York community has heard all about the University’s plans to reduce the amount of trash it sends to landfills through enhanced recycling, organic waste diversion and new green cleaning methods.

Starting today, ZeroWaste is here to stay and it will mean a fundamental change in how everyone thinks about, and handles, their garbage.

The most apparent change comes with what we do with our lunchtime leftovers. Those apple cores, chicken bones, banana peels and any other organics will be “captured” in new organic bins that are now part of all communal kitchen areas on York’s Keele and Glendon campuses. The organics will then be collected and processed into compost instead of going into landfill.

Right: York Vice-President Academic & Provost Patrick Monahan gives his office’s new organic bin a test run

As well, as part of ZeroWaste, custodial staff will no longer empty deskside garbage and recycling bins. Instead everyone will be responsible for sorting their own newspapers, paper products, cans, bottles and plastics into new communal tri-bins that have been installed in community kitchen areas. We will also be in charge of emptying our own office garbage cans. 

Finally, new green cleaning procedures are being rolled out across the Keele and Glendon campuses that use environmentally safe products, techniques and equipment. This will result in better air quality in all York buildings.

"Our team is very excited about the ZeroWaste initiative at York University because through our collective efforts we all will become engaged and responsive in a positive way towards reducing our individual and institutional ecological footprint," says Bob Smith, director of custodial, grounds and Glendon Facilities Services for Campus Services & Business Operations (CSBO). "I expect that the tri-bin and green cleaning programs we are initiating at York will become blueprints for other institutions to model in order to improve their operations in a sustainable manner."

You can help the program 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 (unless you like fruit flies).
  • 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 kitchenette bin or digester. 

Left: This banana peel is headed off to be composted. Getting it ready for its new role is as simple as walking to the communal kitchenette bin.

The program comes to York with some significant heft in the way of research and other institutional examples that show its worth. One of the most noteworthy of local community successes is the Maximum Green Program initiated by the Ontario government in 1991. The program saw government employees take responsibility for depositing their lunchtime leftovers, kitchen organics and recyclable materials into communal bins. It reached its reduction target of 50 per cent in five years well before expected. The three Ontario government buildings involved in the pilot saw a total diversion rate of 80 to 88 per cent.

In 1998, the Maximum Green Program was rolled out to 52 Ontario government buildings and involved 24,000 employees. The program reduced waste by 75 to 95 per cent per building, saving nearly $1 million in annual waste disposal costs. In March 2000, a comprehensive Maximum Green Program went into place at most of the government’s buildings in downtown Toronto and now diverts more than 70 per cent of all waste from landfill sites. The payback period on investments into the program was less than one year and resulted in custodial staff recovering more than one-third of their time on a floor of 100 tenants.

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 Smith.

Initiatives such as ZeroWaste also serve as potent instructors into our own habits, says Smith. By making it necessary to walk to communal trash and recycling centres, people learn to pay attention and think about what they are throwing away and about what can be recycled. "It teaches us to become more conscious of the waste we throw out," says Smith, "and we realize that many items that we would have previously thrown out can actually be recycled."

York University is keeping good company with its ZeroWaste initiative. Other North American organizations involved in implementing similar programs include the cities of Toronto, Seattle, San Jose and Austin; the Bank of Nova Scotia; North Illinois University and the Journal Democrat newspaper in Rockport, Indiana.

York is also rolling out a green cleaning program as part of ZeroWaste. Current cleaning products are being replaced with new plant-based compounds that are much less corrosive and have less airborne contaminants than products such as bleach. The enzymes contained in these products also continue to work destroying unwanted germs for a longer period of time, which translates into a cleaner environment and reduced product usage.

New procedures for dispensing these products also mean that York’s custodial staff can be more accurate with mixing the cleaners, which are all biodegradable. As well, the storage jugs for these cleaners are 100 per cent recyclable. Information about the different green cleaning products used by custodial staff, is available on the Custodial Services Web site.

In all, says Smith, the program offers a complete win-win for York University and for the environment.

For more information, read the ZeroWaste Frequently Asked Questions section on the Yorkw!se Web site, or see YFile, April 22.  

By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor