We’re always thinking of different ways of recycling” – Judy Jaeger (Head of Caretaking Services, U of L)

Around 10 000 people come through the doors of the University of Lethbridge every day. They occupy about 1.8 million square feet of facilities, and produce about 200 metric tonnes of waste every year.

Judy Jaeger, the head of Caretaking Services at the U of L, describes the work of the Waste and Recycling Department. Cardboard and paper recycling was first introduced in 1992. By 2018, approximately 130 tonnes of recycling and composting material is diverted from the municipal landfill each year.

In June 2017, the U of L became the first campus in Canada to begin Styrofoam recycling. The Styrofoam commonly comes from science labs, food containers, and product packaging. When unpacking new products for the new science building, Judy explains that about 4 weeks of normal Styrofoam waste was generated in only a few days. Once collected, the Styrofoam is shredded, melted down, and trucked away by a mobile recycling company (Styro-Go) out of Calgary. This process results in small compact bricks, which are turned into car bumpers, picture frames, and fake marble for airplanes – among other after-products.

Although the food court has been recycling for many years, in early 2016, the U of L banned Styrofoam use by the vendors. As a result, the food containers used by vendors are now entirely compostable.

Despite already being successful, the University hopes to improve its composting strategy in the future. Right now, compost bins with certified compostable bags for food waste are found at almost every garbage can in the university, and each bathroom has a dedicated paper towel composting receptacle. The organics are taken to 3 large composting units where the compost piles are monitored for moisture and mechanically mixed with a tractor by the university grounds crew. The nutritious soil is then used to benefit planters and trees around campus.

A challenge with this system is that some organics such as animal products like meat or bones are not able to be composted. Also, cold winter temperatures and the scale of the composting means that it can take 6 months to a few years to fully decompose a unit of waste material.

What Judy proposes is the acquisition of a ‘BIOvator’: an all steel, 1.2 meter diameter, 9 meter long, self-composting unit, that would be capable of handling 225 kg of organic waste a day. This new system would cut back on the cost of compostable bags and human labour. It would also be able to handle materials in cold temperatures, allowing faster handling of waste material

As a student, I find myself regularly recycling and composting my lunches at school rather than at home. The systems put in place by Judy and the team at Caretaking Services are not only convenient, but I trust the recycled materials are going to the right place and not to a landfill.

Written by Samuel Gerrand. 
A waste recycling and compost station

A waste recycling and compost station, commonly found throughout campus.

A melted brick of styrofoam
A melted brick of styrofoam. The product of about 100 pounds of styrofoam before melting.
composting unitsThe current composting units, with some plastics yet to be sorted out.
A representative of StyroGPA representative of StyroGP, the styrofoam recycling company, in front of the necessary equipment.