Student suggestions for improving trash systems at school


A recycling bin in the PC Lounge filled with the wrong kind of trash: many people at Concordia do not use the recycling bins in a responsible way.


by George S., Corey Z., Aaron Y., Kwok Chi C., Jeremy N.

Concordia’s trash sorting system is far from perfect, but the implementation of the recycling bins in the PC Cafe and the PC Lounge over a year ago did create a certain scale of change.

And yet, we still see this on the Concordia campus at some point:  wooden chopsticks in the plastic recycling bin, and ziploc bags contained with wet tissues thrown into the paper recycling bin. The misuse of these categorized trash bins goes on.

In a companion article to this one called “A Bird’s Eye View of the Trash We Produce at Concordia”, you can see that our Global Development Studies group did a semester-long data collection project where we learned that we produce, on average 3,000 kg of waste each week at school. We also learned that we only recycle a small percentage of our trash, about 2 per cent.

So what are some solutions to help us do a better job?

The government of Shanghai might help us out in this regard. In July of 2019, Shanghai will implement the new Domestic Life Waste Management Law which will tighten regulations for the disposal and recycling of domestic waste. This law includes new waste disposal and sorting regulations for entities and organizations such as Concordia. Waste is expected to be sorted into four categories before disposal by municipal waste management: recyclable waste, hazardous waste, organic/wet waste, and dry waste (waste that doesn’t belong in any other category). It is important to note that the law does not require organizations to distinctly separate recyclable waste from the other types of waste. However, there are hefty fines for organizations that fail to separate organic waste or hazardous waste from dry waste. For more information, please go to…

The maximum penalty for an organization that fails to organize its waste properly is ¥50,000 for each infraction. Although it is unlikely for the school to receive this fine for its first infraction, the new law nevertheless presents a legal issue for the school to resolve in its waste management. The use of general waste bins in the school leads to extensive contamination of dry waste by organic/food waste. This means that the school is likely to incur penalties for failing to separate organic waste from dry waste unless there is a substantial change to the way that trash is collected and/or sorted.

Our school has made many attempts at proper waste management and disposal in the past, with the categorized trash bins in the PC lounge being one of the more recent attempts. However, they have all failed to effect meaningful improvements to the sustainability of this school’s waste disposal. Our group has completed a structural and statistical analysis of the school’s waste disposal programs, and would like to suggest a few potential solutions to improve recycling at our school.

 1. Install Categorized Waste Bins on Each Floor

Even though there are recycling bins in the PC Cafe and the PC Lounge, there exists no way for people to categorize waste in other parts of the school. This means that all recyclable waste (except for paper from some classrooms that is collected in classroom bins) is thrown into the general waste bins and not properly categorized. When we interviewed a student about why he doesn’t dispose of recyclable waste in the recycling bins on the second floor, he replied, “there is no legit(imate) reason for me to go down from the fourth floor solely to throw my trash away; it is just more convenient to throw it into the black mesh bin in the classroom.”

Therefore, our group would suggest the placement of categorized trash bins on each floor of the high school, and appropriate areas of the other divisional buildings. We recommend separate bins for each of the following waste categorizations: Paper, Plastic, Aluminum, Food Waste, and Non Recyclable Waste. This would allow much more efficient categorization of trash at our school, and would also significantly decrease the contamination of recycled waste.

2. Increase the Reach of Recycling Programs to All Divisions

Our group suggests expanding the current high school paper recycling program to the rest of the campus, along with expanding other recycling programs to all divisions.

3. Catering Options

As part of our research, we learned that with the current recycling system our school uses, paper juice and milk boxes cannot be recycled because of costs associated with the processing of said containers into reusable pulp. As a result, our school currently has no sustainable option in terms of drinks, other than aluminum cans for sodas (which students are not allowed to buy).

Therefore, our group suggests that other sustainable options for providing drinks to the Concordia community be investigated. For example, plastic bottles were removed from the cafeteria and cafe two years ago and drink fountains were discussed at that time. Perhaps creative solutions like this could be revisited. Reducing our waste generation related to drinks in the cafeteria would contribute greatly to the sustainability of our school.

Implementing our suggested solutions will take time, effort, and energy. We understand that some of these changes require a shift in behavior, but if we care about having a more sustainable campus, these changes are worth it. As for you, the reader, you have a choice to make right now. By refusing single use containers and properly categorizing your trash, you can make a difference.