Science - September 27, 2007

Green students don’t separate waste

The two bins for organic waste under the Dijkgraaf student flat are full to bursting, not with the kitchen and garden waste they are intended for, but an umbrella, spray cans and pieces of furniture. According to the municipality, students separate even less organic waste than the average Wageningen citizen. So, how does this fit in with their green image?

Figures from the municipality indicate that in 2006 the grey garbage containers at the student flats contained almost 40 percent kitchen and garden waste (GFT in Dutch). In the other high-rise buildings in Wageningen the figure is 35 percent and in low-rise housing it’s about 25 percent. ‘Really it’s too crazy for words that this is the case at a university like Wageningen,’ says Ruud Mengers who lives in the Dijkgraaf flat. Nevertheless, his corridor does not separate its organic waste. ‘If we did that here, it would take far too long for the container to be filled,’ he says. ‘It would start to stink and maybe leak as well.’

Irritation at the inconvenience is not confined to the one corridor. Bart Nevels has also tried to convince his corridor-mates of the importance of separating waste, but encountered heavy resistance. ‘People choose clearly for convenience instead of environmental awareness. The garbage bags are collected every week by people from Idealis – that way you can get rid of your waste immediately.’

A couple of floors up, Bapsy Jibichibi from Botswana is just closing a couple of smelly garbage bags full of food waste. ‘I’m not sure that separating organic waste is effective,’ he says. ‘Recycling is a good principle, like with paper and glass. Maybe there should be a special container outside on the corridor, which Idealis empties regularly.’

Apart from the issue of cost, it is not clear whether central collection of organic waste would work, as Ruud and Bart suggest. ‘The nuisance factor is not even the most important argument against,’ continues Bart. ‘People here say that it’s pointless anyway as all waste ends up in the same pile after it has been collected. I think we should get together, the whole block of flats, through Stichting Flat Overleg (SFO), and agree to give it one more try.’

At the Bornsesteeg, the GFT bins were taken away eighteen months ago because of the amount of non-organic waste that they contained. That’s a problem for the municipality because a garbage lorry that contains too much non-organic waste is rejected at the waste recycling depot. Regular waste is much more expensive to process and much worse for the environment.

‘Six months ago the container was put back for a while, but when garbage bags were found in it again, the containers were removed,’ recalls housemaster Meerten Hommersom. ‘I don’t know what it is,’ he says. ‘Students from abroad are not familiar with the system of course, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find someone willing to be a corridor representative who can explain it all to them.’ Nevertheless the municipality of Wageningen wants to give it one last try. Hommersom will put another sticker on the bin with a warning in two languages. ‘Is there a better way of explaining than the poster already hanging in each corridor?’