Are you a Waste Warrior?: Gzowski wins the 2015 Cafeteria Waste Challenge

Trent’s first annual Cafeteria Waste Challenge took place from March 16 to 23, in the Otonabee, Gzowski, Champlain, and Lady Eaton dining halls.

The challenge was simple: the college that showed the most improvement in properly sorting their garbage, recycling, and compost wins – receiving an Eco-certificate and a ‘No Trash Bash’ held in their cafeteria.

This competition turned students into waste warriors that used recycling and composting as their munitions to help protect our planet from garbage in landfills and in our oceans.

Most of what gets thrown into the garbage can be diverted from the landfill by proper sorting into either paper or container recycling and is often compostable.

To get a sense of how much of this diversion is happening in the cafeterias, a waste audit was done in February. Across all cafeterias, between 50-92% of what was put in the garbage could have been recycled or composted.

We can do better than that!

Waste Challenge fig
This figure demonstrates the amount of divertable waste in each college’s garbage bins before the challenge took place.


With the help of updated signs and improved infrastructure at the resource recovery stations in all cafeterias, an outreach campaign by students and BlueBox members, and the actions of student waste warriors, the cafeterias of OC, LEC, and Gzowski all improved their sorting of recyclables and compost in the second audit, done in March.

Champlain was the only college that had a drastic drop in diversion, with organics and recycling heavily mixed in with garbage.

The audit only assessed a fraction of the resources that go into dining hall resource recovery stations, and so the volumes measured were quite small.

Nevertheless, if scaled up, the improved diversion seen in the second audit means that a significant amount of recycling and organics were saved from the landfill and given new life as recycled containers, paper, and compost.

Many students don’t know that Trent has its own composting facility; the Physical Resources department picks up compost from the dining halls and all over campus, processes it, and uses the finished product all over university grounds. If the compost is contaminated with garbage and recycling it reduces the efficiency of our compost program and results in more garbage going to the landfill.

Trent’s composting program in action (photo courtesy of the Sustainability Office)
Trent’s composting program in action (photo courtesy of the Sustainability Office)

Gzowski showed an incredible improvement in their sorting of recyclables by over 30%, winning the challenge by a landslide.

To celebrate this victory, Gzowski is having a No Trash Bash in its dining hall, hosted by Chartwells, on Thursday April 9 from 2-4pm with drinks, snacks, games, and prizes! Everyone is welcome to join in celebrating Gzowski’s sustainability achievement.

Striving to live more sustainably requires collective and continuous action. We can all be waste warriors every day by properly sorting our recyclables and compost, and encouraging others to do the same. Every correctly sorted item that is diverted from a landfill is a step toward achieving a more sustainable Trent.

This Waste Challenge would not have been possible without the support of the folks from Food Services Sustainability Committee, Sustainable Trent, Chartwells, TCSA, TGSA, the Sustainability Office, and student volunteers.