Tracking Trash: UH Mānoa moving towards Zero Waste

Above: Navion Tagore-Erwin, the Waste Reduction Fellow with the UH System Office of Sustainability, conducting a pilot audit at the Agricultural Science Building.

For most people, trash is something better left out of sight and out of mind.  But not confronting our waste habits has fiscal and environmental consequences.  

Based on procurement records, UH Manoa uses 21 tons of paper towels annually.  This cost $98,138.00 in 2016 and creates enough waste to cover 2,121 miles (nearly the distance from Hawai’i to California).  And this cost doesn’t account for the economic and environmental impacts (deforestation, depletion of freshwater resources, transportation emissions) associated with the production and distribution of paper towels.  

The UH Mānoa community will have a rare opportunity to face their trash during the upcoming campus-wide audit held from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm at Legacy Path on Thursday, Oct. 19th and Friday, Oct. 20th, the audit is designed to highlight for students, faculty, and admin the reality of the campus waste stream while providing valuable data to empower the administration to make better choices about holistic procurement and disposal practices.

“In order to manage our waste we need to first understand what we are throwing away so that we can responsibly direct our purchasing and minimize our disposal” points out Roxanne Adams, UH Manoa’s Director of Building and Grounds Manager.

This audit is an update and expansion on a 2008 audit led by a group of students, with the support of Building and Grounds Management.  This initial audit provided a valuable baseline of UH Manoa waste generation and created a value proposition for adopting zero waste policies.  Zero Waste is a concept that helps conceptualize and address the impacts of our procurement, consumption, and waste patterns.   

According to the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA), Zero Waste is “a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to imitate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.”

The update audit will target specific types of waste (i.e. plastic utensils, disposable beverage containers) to enable a more targeted response from the UH community.  This audit protocol will be shared as a template for other UH campuses to utilize so we can asses the system-wide waste footprint per the direction of UH Executive Policy on Sustainability.  This policy commits UH to cultivate system sustainability through both waste reduction and sustainable procurement (see UH Executive Policy, EP 4.202).  

“This waste audit is an important step in achieving our waste reduction goals at UH Mānoa,” states the Office of Sustainability Waste Reduction Fellow Navin Tagore-Erwin.

All are welcome to stop by and volunteer to help with the audit!  Gloves and water will be provided.

Above: Full dumpsters outside of QLC. Is there any way we can minimize what
we are tossing? This waste audit will help us figure that out.