As part of the McGill Vision 2020 plan to introduce environmentally-sustainable operations on campus, McGill’s Facilities Management and Ancillary Services department is implementing the Zero Waste Project, which will introduce compost bins across campus.
Composting is the natural biological process in which various microorganisms decompose organic waste—such as food scraps, paper, and grass clippings—and convert it into an organic soil fertilizer, which is better for the environment than using chemical fertilizers in agriculture. It is also a sustainable way to dispose of garbage as, according to Environment Canada, organic waste accounts for 40 per cent of residential waste. Currently, the Zero Waste Project is centred around five campus buildings: La Citadelle, Brown, Trottier, McConnell Arena, and the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) building.
The first compost bins were originally planned to be placed at La Citadelle residence starting in April, but have since been delayed to the fall. After examining whether waste is being put in the correct bins and obtaining feedback from students, cleaning staff, and building managers, the Zero Waste Project team aims to expand the project’s reach to the remaining four buildings before the Winter 2019 semester.
“The pilot is going to start probably by next month and once we get the feedback from the pilot project we will make changes to the bins and the ways we are implementing this project,” Zero Waste Project student volunteer Aditya Jain said.
One of the primary aims of the project is to mitigate compost contamination by educating students on what they can and cannot compost.
“Previously, we had a few compost bins and the biggest complaint we received from the service provider was that the compost was highly contaminated and that they had to literally throw it out,” Jain said.
Sustainability coordinators at McGill Student Housing and Hospitality Services, with the help of the Zero Waste Project, have already created a video to educate students on composting. Additionally, the Zero Waste Project team plans to place rotational screens on waste bins that indicate the types of waste that should be deposited in each bin. Finally, to facilitate proper waste sorting, Facilities Management and Ancillary Services will implement a standardized colour scheme to differentiate waste bins on campus.
“We want to put up good, clear signage and make sure it is unified across campus,” Zero Waste Project student volunteer Antonia Butler said. “People are confused because they see different colours, so it has to be very unified.”
One of the challenges Jain and Butler faced in implementing the project was a lack of data on McGill’s waste diversion rate and previous attempts at composting. In light of this, one of the core strategies of the Zero Waste Project is to record the amount of compostable, landfill, and recyclable waste each building produces.
“There was no data available on campus about what the waste rate was and what the diversion rates were,” Butler said. “We just got a few volunteers and we said ‘go to trash bins for two weeks and count the items.’ That was our waste audit. The data showed there was a lot of non-trash waste going into garbage bins. So, obviously, there was a need for composting.”
Additionally, the Project hopes to put its compost infrastructure to use by distributing compostable utensils and food containers at all food locations on campus.
For the time being, La Citadelle residents are excited to pioneer this project and hope that it will be expanded to other residences in the near future.
“I think it’s a really great initiative,” Cristina Lau, U0 Management, said. “I remember when me and my roommate first moved in we were really disappointed that the closest compost station was at RVC cafeteria. I’m really excited to see how residence transforms into a more environmentally conscious environment in the next few years.”