Observed Behaviors - Campus events

Journal Entry For
Notes from Observing

As a Zero Waste Intern, I often get the chance to help monitoring waste bins at campus events that serve food and want to ensure proper waste sorting. Despite all the lengths that Stanford goes to ensure that waste gets sorted for it’s proper end-use, whether that be compost, recycling, or landfill, a lot of people still struggle with this for many reasons. The biggest culprit of improperly sorted waste is just when people don’t even stop to take a second to see the options available to them, which can be a problem on the individual’s end (being in a hurry, not paying attention, etc.) or the infrastructure’s end (i.e. poor or confusing labeling, weird bin placement). For most people, waste is an afterthought and it’s not something that’s approached mindfully. After all, waste is the remnant of something you completed/ate/created/etc., and by that time, most people are already thinking about the next thing. But, when people do attempt to sort their waste properly, their usually most confused about what is considered recyclable, because this is the area of waste that is most variable from place to place. Thin, lightweight plastics are usually landfill, but Stanford accepts them for recycling. Plastic cutlery and straws are plastic, but too small to be recycled and should be thrown in the landfill, unless (and only unless) they’re labeled “compostable,” but most people just don’t know that. Styrofoam should always be landfilled, but most to-go containers have the typical “chasing arrows” symbol that’s associated with recycling, which confuses people trying to do the right thing.


Without someone there to help sort waste, most people will just take the path of least resistance, especially when they’re in a hurry, and just toss everything into the landfill.