Quad trial no waste of time

03 March 2008

Lesley Stone insists she loves her job, even if it means hand-sifting through a cubic metre of decaying University rubbish. Her hands-on research was vital in establishing what we throw away, before a trial of new recycling bins was introduced to the busy student quad area on the City Campus.

During the "Quad Trial", the University, AUSA and Waste Management Ltd teamed up to test a system for separating and collecting recylables in the common area used by students. Two types of bins, for recyclable and non-recyclable waste, were placed around the quad area for the duration of Summer School and Semester One 2007.

Before the trial, Dr Stone’s research revealed more than a third of the rubbish in University bins was easily recyclable. A further 43% of the rubbish was food. The student quad was chosen as a test-bed for the new recycling system as it is one of the busiest areas of the University, with a high concentration of food outlets.

"The quad area was typically producing 140 full wheelie bins of solid waste a week before the trial began," Dr Stone says.

"During the trial we recovered on average 15 full recycling bins a week, making a huge dent in the amount of solid waste being sent to landfill - about 10 percent. If we had this same result across the entire City Campus, we would prevent nearly 5000 wheelie bins of rubbish being sent to the tip a year, and save $5288 in dumping fees."

Dr Stone and a team of helpers got their hands dirty again by repeating the meticulous sorting and weighing of rubbish at three points throughout the trial. This allowed them to track how the bins were being used and to make small adjustments to where and how the bins were placed. During the first audit, at the end of Summer School, only 63% of the rubbish being placed in recycling bins was actually recyclable. By the end of the trial, this figure had risen to 91 percent.

"We gathered some valuable information about how people act around bins. For example, recycling and ordinary rubbish bins need to be placed together in pairs, otherwise rubbish will be placed in the wrong bins. Recycling bins must not be easier to use than a normal rubbish bin. They must be closed, without a hole in their lid, and accompanied by a green bin that is open. Recycling bins work best in controlled environments, such as a kitchen where staff are aware of how to use them appropriately. And, they are misused the most when placed in or close to the glass atrium."