Green Advisors Hold 2nd Annual Waste Audit

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.


This Wednesday morning, the Green Advisors (GAs) organized the 2nd annual Waste Audit. Several GAs collected trash, compost, and recycling from Kohlberg and the Science Center and sorted through them on the Science Center Quad, to find out how much waste was actually put in the right receptacle.

“Out of 105 pounds of waste collected from trash, only 39 pounds are actually trash. 42 pounds are compost and 24 pounds are recycling,” said Erick White ’15, a GA. He thinks that this is usually because people don’t know which category the trash they throw away belongs to. For example, he said that tea bags, instead of being thrown in the trash, can be compostable.

The Waste Audit serves to promote on-campus sustainability in Swarthmore. “This activity generates statistics that everyone can see and feel,” says Olivia Ortiz ’16, another GA. “The idea of organizing the Waste Audit is to make everything about sustainability visible. There are similar programs in other schools, and we created our own last year.”

Apart from this, GAs also work to promote awareness of energy conservation and recycling. At the trash audit, the GAs had posters urging students to better recycle waste. Last year, they organized an inter-dorm electricity-saving competition and set up drying racks in several dorms to encourage people to switch from dryers to more environment-friendly options.

However, one problem Ortiz pointed out is that unlike RAs and SAMs, GAs are not paid, which makes them less compelled to hold study sessions in dorms and organize events. They have been trying to make GA a paid job, but so far no plans have been made by the administration.

Most waste from Swarthmore are sent to the Covanta Energy-from-Waste facility in Chester, PA. This facility has the largest trash incinerator in US, and processes waste from not only the nearby area, but also from Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York City. There has been continuous concern over the negative impact of the facility on the air quality in the neighborhood and on people’s health. For years, Chester residents have complained to the state that they are experiencing negative health effects, including an abnormally high asthma hospitalization rate as a result of the heavy pollution in their area generated by these and other surrounding facilities.

There is also a medical waste treatment facility in Chester, harboring medical waste from five other states. A number of environmental justice groups are fighting against the waste treatment

facilities, and accuse the government of environmental racism because of the placement of low-income or minority communities in proximity of environmentally hazardous or degraded environments. “It’s an institutional problem. It seems to me that the only solution is to generate less waste,” Ortiz said.


  1. I wonder to what extent having recycling be single stream increases the likelihood people will throw trash into recycling and vice versa (since it ends up looking more similar to trash). I remember that when we moved to single stream, I often had to remove trash from recycling bins in my dorm.

    I also remember that there were a couple places where recycling bins were not accompanied by trash bins and people who were in a rush had a tendency to throw trash into them.

    I think that the audits are a great idea, and that keeping track of the statistics will let you run experiments (with things like placement of recycling and compost bins) to figure out how to optimize use.

  2. I am happy to see another effort by the Green Advisors to elevate to greater visibility the role we each play in the cycle of waste through our sustainability programming. They are certainly right that one contribution we can make to the well-being of our Chester neighbors is to generate less waste but with what we do generate we need to become better at putting it all in the right place. I know that efforts are underway to create more user-friendly receptacles, especially for compost so that where appropriate there are three choices rather than two. We can each work to educate ourselves about what’s what between waste, recyclable and compostable and I know there is work going on to make that simpler through our purchasing practices. I also know we all want to do better. Maurice

  3. The waste hierarchy always determines recycling as one of the major modes for successful waste management. A waste audit identifies the stream of waste being generated and allows you to measure and optimize use of resources.
    Although the post belongs to 2014, Waste audits are also so relevant to the current day scenario waste management practices.

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