Faces of Sustainability: Champions for organics collection

Amy Stafford and Lorraine Huntley, organics collection

Amy Stafford and Lorraine Huntley are two UAlberta staff members who recently completed the Office of Sustainability’s ecoREPs program

As alumni of this leadership program, they've championed an office organics collection project in Lister Centre. They knew that there was a unique opportunity to have an organics collection program in their office due to their proximity to the cafeteria upstairs. It already had a program in place to collect food scraps from the kitchen. To them, it seemed logical and simple to extend the service to their office in the building as well. First, they touched base with their team and the Facilities Services Manager to ensure they had support for their pilot.

Their enthusiasm—and their success—is proving infectious. The trial with Amy and Lorraine’s office went so well that all of the other offices in Lister Centre are moving towards this system too. This is a great example of how ecoREPs can pilot projects that help our campus test initiatives before they are rolled out broadly across campus.

So as I understand it, the two of you collect organic waste from your 14-person office in one central bin. Every night you empty the bin and it gets picked-up along with organic food scraps from the cafeteria. How did you get this project off the ground?

Amy Stafford (AS): We did some preliminary work polling our colleagues to ensure we had participation and support and buy-in from everyone in our space. We organized a meeting, we got the bins and the bags, and organized a trial. Since then, everyone has bought in to the point where everyone in the office is helping out. So it really feels like not a lot to do with us! We just said let’s do this and it happened.

Lorraine Huntley (LH): In this building, there’s already organics collection going on. We knew how to do it in a kitchen. But an office can be just as easy—or easier.

What is it about office composting that jumped out at you as a great project to pursue?

AS: The reason we even thought about this project is that most of our co-workers eat in the office. And all of our food garbage was going into the main garbage. But we already had organics collection happening upstairs with ARAMARK. So it seemed like we could just put a new organics collection bin beside the garbage bin, there would be no issue with just putting the organics in there instead.

Initially, we measured it to see how much we were getting, to see if it was worth it to go forward. We found it was. Some days we got a full bag, some days at least half a bag or two-thirds of a bag. Now with composting, our garbage has shrunk to maybe a quarter of what it was. 

LH: We were actually surprised how much there really was coming out of this office.

What were the challenges, and how did you overcome them?

AS: People did have a couple reservations—fruit flies and smell—but once we had addressed that by saying we’ll change it every night, and not give it a chance to smell, that was it. And we pointed out that all of that organic matter was already sitting in the garbage can. So this new system is literally no different in that respect.

We also left it to people individually to decide whether they want to get up and go to that shared space every time, or if they wanted to use their own garbage bin at their desk, and then sort it out later. So we left it up to individuals to figure out what works best for them at their work station.

Why is this kind of environmental action so important to you?

LH: Both Amy and I are concerned about the environment, it’s part of our mindset. And in our department, we’ve done so much with the residences to bring in recycling, collection of organic food scraps, all sorts of things. So environmentalism is already engrained in us. With this composting project, it’s a bigger chance for me to be a part of what the university does. I think that was a big part of it for me: being part of what the university does by being a champion for sustainability.

AS: I agree. We talked a lot about this in ecoREPs actually: how sometimes you feel like you’re just a cog in a machine that you can’t really affect change. But this organics collection project just felt really simple, very achievable, and it would make a very visible difference. And it did! It made an instant, very visible change in how much garbage is produced by our office. It’s overwhelming sometimes to think of all the bad stuff we do to our environment, but this was one thing we felt we really could control and quickly make a difference. 

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to implement a sustainability-related project in their own office?

AS: I have to admit that I felt nervous, asking everyone in here about organics collection. So just don’t be nervous. It turns out that everyone was more than willing to participate. It just takes that one person to say “let’s do it,” and other people will fall right in line. And that’s something that I didn’t know would be the case. And that probably happens more often than we realize.

LH: Most people want to do right, but they just don’t have the time, or they don’t know how. But it’s not as challenging as it would look at first. And now they can look at Lister Centre and say, well they did it. It can be done, quite easily!

AS: If nothing else, hopefully people will take away the fact that they can get in touch with the Office of Sustainability and ask for help. I’m so glad that we took that ecoREPS program because [through that], I found out more than anything: the stuff that’s already happening on campus, and the resources we already have to help us are amazing. 

Learn more about the  University of Alberta’s ecoREPs program