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Waste audit could help county buildings improve on recycling

From left, Sonja Sprandel, Caitlyn Schuchhardt and Charles Morrison perform a waste audit at the Beltrami County Community Services building Friday. Justin Glawe | The Pioneer

BEMIDJI – Almost half.

That’s the amount of recyclable materials – 40 percent – that ends up being thrown away at the Beltrami County Community Services building on a daily basis.

And that’s one building, in one week.

That statistic, not known before Friday, is brought to you by a group of Bemidji State students and their waste audit.

Put simply, they dug through the building’s trash.

 “One of the first steps when you’re implementing a new recycling system, is to see what your waste stream is,” said Caitlyn Schuchhardt, a Minnesota GreenCorps member who is working with the college’s sustainability office on the project. “We’re trying to see what problems they’re having and come to them later with some suggestions on how to improve.”

Bins for collecting recyclable materials will help, their amount and location will also assist the three buildings owned by the county to recycle more, but some things can’t be solved by waste audits and receptacles.

The insoluble number sits at 15 percent.

“When we did this on our campus we started with about 40 percent,” said Erika Bailey-Johnson.

A waste audit at Bemidji State revealed an almost identical number of wasted recyclables as was found this week at the Community Services building. Bailey-Johnson and the sustainability office later performed another audit, showing that number had dropped to 15 percent.

“There’s always that 15 percent,” she said.

Despite a background that includes a degree in English literature, Schuchhardt sounded like an engineer in the warm and trash-strewn room Friday afternoon.

“We are collecting benchmark data,” she said. “After you implement your system, it’s best to do another waste audit. Was it successful, are people using it and is it keeping recyclables out of the waste stream?”

Only time will tell.

Centralized locations for recycling bins are one way to reduce the number of trash cans in a facility. Plus, they have an added benefit.

“We’re trying to encourage people to get out of their desk and walk, but still trying to have it be convenient,” Bailey-Johnson said.

The audit brought a discovery besides the amount of wasted recyclables, Bailey-Johnson said, and one that law enforcement and private detectives learned long ago.

“There’s so much you can tell about people by going through their trash.”

Justin Glawe
Reporting on crime, courts and Beltrami county government. Follow me on Twitter @JustinGlawe.
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