Hawks put State Hygienic Lab's trash under the microscope

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A day's worth of garbage from the State Hygienic Laboratory went under the microscope on April 20 to gauge what percentage - on a typical day - could have gone to recycling and how much will go to the landfill.

The UI Facilities Management Group and Office of Sustainability organized the waste audit following a request by Eco-Force, the Laboratory's green team. Manpower to sort through discarded food, packaging and other debris was provided by the UI ECO (Easy Change Overall) Hawks, a student group formed to promote sustainable initiatives on campus. Volunteers from UI's Engineers for a Sustainable World contributed to the audit, which was held at the Hygienic Lab.

"We contacted the Sustainability group through their website and they organized the audit," said Patty Villhauer, clinical lab analyst and member of the Lab's Eco-Force team. "They pretty much held our hand and walked us through it. They have an efficient system in place. The ECO Hawks provided the manpower, and we provided the facilities and the garbage."

After suiting up in safety clothes, gloves and goggles, the ECO Hawks began sorting the 91.5 pounds of garbage. Bins were designated for paper, cardboard, plastic (recyclable and redeemable), e-waste (batteries and anything with a cord), food, metals (aluminum and tin), glass, plastic bags and landfill.

By weighing and tallying each of the bins, it was determined that 39 percent of Thursday's trash was truly garbage and would be sent to the landfill. Forty-five percent of the garbage could have been recycled, redeemed, or composted. The remaining 16 percent included plastic bags routinely used in housekeeping practices to collect the trash in the Lab.

Data from the audit will be used as a benchmark for the Hygienic Lab's ongoing recycling efforts.

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