Tribune Explains: Waste management at McGill

Understanding where a coffee cup discarded outside of a lecture hall ends up or what happens after a sandwich wrapper from last week’s lunch is thrown away can be difficult. The inconsistent signage and colour-coding on waste disposal containers across campus certainly does not help make the process any easier. McGill Residence Life and the Environmental Residence Council hosted ‘Demystifying the Dump’ to answer questions students may have about waste at McGill.  

What happens to garbage, recycling and compostables thrown in disposal bins at McGill?

Tricentris Terrebonne picks up recycling daily from all residences, while Compost Montreal collects compost weekly from Solin residence and all Food and Dining locations. As for all other campus compost, there is no significant structural transparency for how compost is disposed of. All landfill-bound garbage is also picked up by a private contractor on a daily basis. 

How much waste does McGill produce?

The most recent investigation into the volume of waste produced by McGill occurred in 2013, led by Waste Management Canada. Their estimates concluded that McGill University produces 683 tonnes of waste and 349 tonnes of recyclables per year. The most staggering conclusion however was that 86 per cent of disposed waste could be diverted through available recycling streams. Due to the decentralized nature of waste management at McGill today, there are no more recent statistics available on the total amount of waste that McGill produces. 

What are some common recycling and garbage mistakes?

Clean plastic bags, including Ziploc bags, are fully recyclable. The best practice is to knot your plastic bags, or dispose of them packed inside each other, so that they do not get caught up in recycling plant machinery.

Plastics are numbered one through seven, with plastics one through five recyclable, six trash, and seven (‘PLA’) compostable.  Number six plastic is so light that it is not financially viable for recycling plants to reduce it down to post-consumer product and resell. It is not accepted for recycling in Montreal, and most coffee retailers use this type of plastic for lids of hot beverage cups. However, all McGill residence cafeterias have compostable lids. Plastic number seven followed by ‘PLA’ (plant), is compostable plastic. For example, most residence cafeteria hot beverage lids are plastic seven PLA, as are some plastic food containers.

Who is spearheading projects to improve waste practices on campus?

Office of Sustainability Zero-Waste Coordinator Kendra Pomerantz is working on the Waste Reduction & Diversion Action Plan. The ultimate goal of this plan is to make McGill a zero-waste institution by 2025, partially through reforming the decentralized and complex waste management systems currently in place. Currently, the main goal of this initiative is to standardize all the signage and bins across campus meant for waste disposal.

What can individual students do to make an impact?

First and foremost, educating yourself about waste practices at McGill and in Montreal is important. McGill Sustainability’s page explains what can and cannot be put into garbage, recycling, and compost bins on campus. Signage in cafeterias should also help explain how to separate your waste. Additionally, the Sustainability Coordinator from Student Housing, Wynn Rederburg, urges students to examine how much waste they produce, especially single-use products. While sorting disposables is important, Rederburg emphasizes that reducing individual waste production will make a more significant impact on creating a more sustainable campus.

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