Guest Column by Waste and Recycling Coordinator Judith Alcorn

July 13 / 115

Four years ago an audit of the University of Melbourne’s waste and recycling bins found that only 16 per cent by weight of all the materials coming through our institution was ending up recycled.

The Campus Operations Group and Sustainability areas of Property and Campus Services realised that action was needed. A Waste Management Plan was written, a Waste and Recycling Coordinator was employed and an ambitious target of a 50 per cent recycling rate for the year 2015 was set.

The plan required radical changes to our bin infrastructure and to the then prevalent “we don’t want to think about it - just take it away” culture.

One of our first challenges was to change the way we collected waste from staff workstations - from a ‘general rubbish bin’ under each desk into which people could throw any item they had no more use for – to a large mixed recycling bin under each desk and a tiny desk top landfill waste bin. Understanding that people are much more accepting of well-explained, clear, easy to use infrastructure change than ad-hoc, non-intuitive interventions, we trialled the bins, designed a better system and then set in place a process where we communicated via emails, flyers, information cards and face-to-face conversations while rolling out the bins.

When aiming to transform what was mainly a waste management system to a system where all users understand and adhere to the principles of sustainable procurement, user responsibility, waste minimisation and resource reuse, it is wise to base any changes on good research and reliable data. Last year we employed a researcher to thoroughly investigate the University’s new waste and recycling infrastructure and the way in which people interacted with it – the result is a ‘warts and all’ report which is already proving its worth in terms of the improvements in efficiency and recycling rate.

The Build it and They Will Recycle report will be published on the MSSI (Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute) website shortly and a summary paper will be presented at the ISWA (International Solid Waste Association) Congress in Vienna in October.

One Case Study cited in the Report shows that when we removed the old round wooden rubbish bins in the Sports Precinct and replaced them with paired waste and recycling bins, the amount of recyclable items captured went from 6 per cent to 92 per cent.

The results of all this hard work and persistence are really starting to pay off - this year we have reached a 41 per cent recycling rate – on track to get to our target of 50 per cent by 2015.

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