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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

As part of America Recycles Day, University of Iowa faculty, staff, and students will don gloves, goggles, and protective suits to sort through piles of trash from three campus buildings to see how much can be recycled or otherwise diverted from the landfill.

Recycle day logo

The waste audit is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, at Kautz Plaza near Trowbridge Hall. The sorters will go through a day's worth of trash from Trowbridge,Schaeffer, and Phillips halls to gain perspective on their buildings' waste stream and inspire actions to enhance recycling and waste reduction, says Eric Holthaus, UI recycling coordinator.

“Auditing waste from three buildings on campus in a high-traffic area is a great opportunity to spread awareness of recycling and waste reduction, create leadership roles for students, and impart the UI's commitment to these efforts,” Holthaus says.

Waste sorts, or audits are a great tool to get a look at what the UI is throwing in the trash, showing not only how much material is sent to the landfill, but also the amount of recyclables and compostable food and fiber that end up in the landfill. Past audits have shown that up to 75 percent of the trash sampled could have been recycled or composted.

Waste audit in April 2013 at Burge Residence Hall
Alicia Presto of the Iowa Waste Exchange assists with a waste audit at Burge Residence Hall on April 4. Photo by Tiffany Clemens.

Audits can also help determine how the UI can reach its 2020 Sustainability Vision goal of 60 percent waste diversion, Holthaus says.

“Once we know what’s going on in a building, we can help empower people on site to know their role in achieving this goal. They can then have a plan of attack to make their building a model for waste diversion on campus,” he says.

Over the past three years, there have been approximately 15 waste audits, which give a good look of what waste diversion looks like on campus. The audits show a nearly 1/3 split between single-stream recycling, organics, and trash. A small portion of items, "other recycling," are plastic bags and glass, items which are not acceptable in single-stream. All in all, this means roughly 75 percent of what’s in our trash doesn’t need to be there.

Past audits at the College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics helped launch new practices there, including a green team to promote sustainability and recycling of disposable clinic gowns. And the College of Public Health designed its new building’s sustainable features with the waste audit information in mind.

The audit of Trowbridge,Schaeffer, and Phillips halls, Holthaus says, may help make a case for composting organics in the buildings.

Partners for the American Recycles Day waste audit include the UI Environmental Coalition, UI Student Government, Facilities Management, the Office of Sustainability, and faculty and staff in Schaeffer, Trowbridge, and Phillips halls. Representatives of these groups will participate, but volunteers are welcome to join in the waste audit as well.

All participants must sign a waiver; wear protective gear that includes gloves, goggles, and Tyvek protective suits; and go through a brief training process on site before sorting through trash.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all UI-sponsored events.If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to attend the waste sort, or if you have other questions, contact Holthaus at 319-384-3415 or

America Recycles Day is a national program of Keep America Beautiful and is the only nationally recognized day and community-driven awareness event dedicated to promoting and celebrating recycling in the U.S. Since its inception in 1997, communities across the country have participated in America Recycles Day on Nov. 15 to educate, promote environmental citizenship, and encourage action.

For more information about recycling at the UI, visit the UI Sustainability at Iowa website.