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Auburn to host trash audit on March 15

<p>Auburn students take a trash tour around campus to prepare for an upcoming trash audit.</p>

Auburn students take a trash tour around campus to prepare for an upcoming trash audit.

Students of Auburn University’s sustainable studies minor are conducting a trash audit on Cater Lawn from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on March 15. 

Maggie Tennant and Taylor Osterbauer, seniors in global studies, are members of the team conducting the audit for their senior capstone project in sustainability. 

“The purpose is to essentially see what measures the Department of Waste Reduction and Recycling can put into place in the future to promote more sustainable practices regarding trash and waste disposal,” Osterbaur said.

A trash audit is a common practice across American universities. They help provide necessary data to identify how recycling programs can improve and better understand the contamination rate in specific areas. 

Contamination is the amount of waste improperly discarded.

"If you have recycling and a container is only supposed to have mixed paper in it, but it has paper that was used in food packaging, then that's contamination and can cause you not to be able to recycle the entire thing," Tennant said.

However, an audit requires research teams to get their hands dirty.

“You go through everything that people throw away,” Tennant said. “So, you go through the garbage and sort it into different categories, like if you have paper waste or plastic, things like that. And you also weigh it to see how much of each category there is.”

To protect themselves, the team will dawn Tyvek suits, a white protective outer layer similar to a HAZMAT suit.

“It’s like a space suit,” Osterbauer said.

Tennant and Osterbauer’s research will add to recycling revitalization efforts led by Joan Hicken, the Department of Waste Reduction and Recycling manager.

According to Tennant and Osterbauer, Hicken is why Auburn has a recycling program.

“[Hicken] really pioneered a lot of Auburn’s recycling practices on campus,” Osterbauer said. "In the early 2000s, there were absolutely no forms of recycling. No trash bins that you throw your recycling in. [Hicken] is the one that implemented that. So now, after 15-plus years, we're trying to refurbish those practices."

The collected data will be an additional stepping stone to further sustainability efforts.

"Hopefully, with funding and throughout the years, it will evolve into something that is more sustainable than it is now because it is not super sustainable," Osterbauer said.

COVID-19 significantly affected the university's recycling program.

"The university was doing really, really well as far as numbers with plastic recycling and cardboard recycling,” Tennant said. “Then COVID hit and pretty much tanked the progress people had made.”

The pandemic's psychological impact is a significant contributor to a less sustainable campus.

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“When you have a pandemic, you want to be able to dispose of things because that is more hygienic,” Tennant said. “Trying to hike your way out of that mindset has been a part of our research. Trying to figure out how far have we come and what more can we do?”

During the audit, Tennant and Osterbauer expect to find food packaging, toiletries, empty bottles of alcohol and “tons of Chick-fil-A.”

“The thing that we’re going to see that’s going to be most disappointing is probably going to be a huge amount of paper in the garbage,” Tennant said.

Tennant and Osterbauer urge that a sustainable Auburn campus is possible.

“The ability to be more sustainable is totally something that is achievable on campus,” Tennant said. “It just depends on people being willing to take those steps, and that goes for facilities as much as it goes for students. It's a team effort, you know? Go Tigers!”

Ethan Flynn | Campus News Editor

Ethan Flynn, sophomore in journalism and finance, is the campus editor at The Auburn Plainsman. He has been with The Plainsman since Fall, 2022.

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