October 2, 2008 — A commitment to sustainability spurred a team of University of Virginia students to conduct the first trash audit at the Darden School of Business on Oct. 2.
The formal title of the event belies the grungy reality of the students' task: they climbed into a dumpster, removed garbage, then sorted and separated the recyclable material by categories.
The audit was conducted throughout the day in front of the parking garage facing the school's Wilkinson Courtyard, where plastic tarps were arranged on the pavement to hold bags of garbage, which the students, wearing work gloves, tore open and examined.
A dumpster was hauled to the location specifically for the audit. Students sorted the trash by plastic, paper, glass, food waste and Styrofoam. One observer commented in gratitude for the breezy, unseasonably cold day.
Second-year Darden student Zoe Robins, who organized the trash audit, said the overriding goal is to illustrate the amount of discarded material that could be recycled, but instead is hauled to a landfill.
The dumpster contained garbage from Sponsor's Hall, an executive residence center for guests of the school. A few hours into the project, it appeared that nearly half the waste could be recycled.
The waste not only contributes to environmental problems but also adds to the school's operating expenses, Robins said, noting that it is less expensive and more efficient and cost effective to recycle.
Robins and her team plan to present their findings to fellow students and the broader Darden community, along with tips on how to recycle. Their effort may also form the basis for a Darden Business Project, for which the students could receive academic credit.
The trash audit is one of the first student-run events to demonstrate Darden's commitment to becoming a zero-waste school by 2020. A second audit is tentatively planned for spring 2009.