Talking Trash: A Waste Management Conversation

By Renee Hutchison

A couple of weeks ago, our friend Laura from Westrock came out to do a recycling and trash audit with us and we had as much fun as any group of people can digging through dumpster-destined waste!

It felt like a nod to my childhood, filled with movies like Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest, shows like Captain Planet, and countless environmental campaigns to Save the Rainforest, Save Our Seas, Save the Planet. I grew up in an era where Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle were the three Rs. So getting the chance to work with Laura to revamp our program, to challenge ourselves and our guests, and to make even a small dent in the overwhelming amount of waste that goes into our landfills was a real thrill for me, and I’ve been talking about it ever since.

Recyclables recovered from trash at Bernheim

Here are some exciting details about the morning’s dig. We started out with five bags of ‘trash’ and five bags of ‘recycling’, collected from all over Bernheim. The idea behind the audit was to see just how much of the recycling was contaminated with ‘trash’, and just how much ‘trash’ could have been recycled. What we found was “the better of the two problems’” according to Laura. It turned out that we had very little trash thrown into our recycling bins, but we had a LOT of recycling thrown into our trash.

The good news, as Laura explained, is that it is much easier to speak to what should be recycled than what shouldn’t. The team quickly started digging through the bags (gloves in place, of course!) and filtered out materials into their proper receptacles. What we ended up with was less than one bag of true trash – the remaining contents of those ten bags were all recyclable materials! This visual was impactful, and I think has instilled in us an even greater desire to rise to the challenge and get this right.

Recycling is not what it was 15, 10, even 5 years ago. There are plenty of rules that we have all learned and held on to regarding what you cannot recycle – some of these no longer apply. Check with your recycling provider for current information. Certainly, the adage that ‘when in doubt, throw it out’ still applies in most cases, but the Bernheim team is taking the pledge to make it easier to distinguish between what is trash versus what is recyclable. We still have a lot of work to do internally and a lot to learn too.

Follow along with us as we go through a larger recycling audit on site at Westrock, learn how to manage our waste better (from streamlining our trash and recycling system to composting food waste and other biodegradables), and ultimately reinventing how we offer waste services to our guests. We hope that you will join us in this challenge, both in your own workspaces and homes and when you visit us at Bernheim.

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