The University of Alberta is a Top Five Canadian university and one of the Top 100 in the world. It is also an extremely “green” university committed to a continuous effort to instill sustainability into university life. It set the goal “to expand waste reduction initiatives across all campuses and increase the amount of waste diverted from the University of Alberta’s North Campus to 50 per cent.” Reaching this threshold required out-of-the-box thinking and finding new and better ways to divert waste from landfills. For the University of Alberta, one solution was to pilot the collection of paper towels used to dry hands for composting.

The Approach

A waste audit revealed that organic waste made up almost half of all the waste produced on campus, so a composting program was an obvious next step. It initially focused on collecting pre-consumer organic waste from the kitchens in two dining facilities, as well as waste from landscaping. The effort was then expanded to all commercial food service locations on campus.

To further divert organics for composting, the university also piloted a specific restroom paper towel collection program in one of its buildings. While paper towel waste is acceptable in all organics collections bins, this has been a first for collecting restroom paper towel waste for composting. The towels are SCOTT® brand 1000’ high capacity roll towels. They are highly absorbent and contain 60 per cent recycled content and 40 per cent post-consumer waste.

The Results

After educating people to help them understand that paper towels are organic (and compostable), it was a lot easier to have people comply with the program. For example, on one floor with about 117 employees, two 65-gallon bins were filled per week with organic waste, and at least 50 per cent of that was paper towels. The university is happy with the program because all waste incorporated into the composting program would otherwise be disposed in a landfill. They also found that paper towels were a great addition to the compost itself as they absorb wetness, supply carbon and act as a bulking agent.

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