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The system-wide Waste Audit was a student-led initiative inspired by the work of Zero Waste Oahu, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaiʻi, and other community-led efforts to reduce waste and begin moving away from extractive economies and towards a circular economy which respects life and planetary boundaries. In the spring of 2018, approximately 30 student leaders from all UH campuses gathered for the 6th Sustainability in Higher Education Summit on Hawaiʻi Island. This group of students worked over two days to develop a plan for expanding student-led efforts to conduct waste audits at all campuses. These efforts built upon the successes of the first student-led waste audit at Kauai Community College in 2017.

Many students and community volunteers were so passionately motivated about sustainability that they were excited to sort, sift, and count garbage at our campuses. The experience gained from the days spent working together to plan, coordinate and implement the waste audits exercised their abilities in systems-thinking, strategic planning, radical collaboration, effective communication and futures-thinking. The project was an inspiring example of the kinds of rich learning experiences and community benefits that often emerge when we utilize our campuses as living laboratories to support sustainability solution-making.

Waste Audit Totals

Waste by Weight: 4,467.8 lbs

System Overview By Weight (lbs)

Waste by Volume: 14,346.58 gal

System Overview By Volume (gal)

Because of this student-led initiative, the systemwide Waste Audit has had several direct impacts on campus operations.

Direct Actions taken as a result of the Audit:

The Waste Audit had direct impacts on several campus operations.

  1. Paper: We are modernizing to digitization of old paper-intensive processes across all the UH campuses.
  2. Food waste: We are investigating on-campus composting to deal with food waste, green waste, and some paper products at UH Manoa Campus.
  3. Takeout Food Containers: We are piloting a reusable takeout food container program at UH Maui College.
  4. Plastic: We are increasing refill stations for reusable water bottles on UH Manoa Campus.

Goals of the Waste Audit were to:

  • Identify major components of our waste stream.
  • Provide data to inform institutional efforts to reduce waste.
  • Utilize this data to develop campus Zero Waste Plans.
  • Utilize this data to reduce carbon footprint and costs related to hauling fees.
  • Provide applied learning and student research opportunities that address real-world challenges facing our campuses.

What is a waste audit?

A waste audit (also known as a waste characterization study), involves sorting through the waste streams, weighing and categorizing the different types of materials found. The volume and weight of each category is then measured and compared against the total volume and weight of waste surveyed. Volume and weight directly impact costs associated with managing waste streams.

Future waste audits can be enhanced by reviewing purchase records to analyze upstream inputs.

Waste Audit Data

Data is from 2017-2019, at 7 UH campuses. (The University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, University of Hawai’i Maui College and the Honolulu, Kapiolani, Leeward, Kauai, and Windward Community Colleges.)

The top 4 categories identified are: paper, food waste, takeout food containers, and plastic.

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Last modified: September 15, 2021
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