Waste Separation

Waste separation at Leiden University

What is better for waste recycling: a plastic, paper or ceramic cup? A bio-based or fossil-based coating? Waste sorting at the source or at a recycling facility? Ask ten experts and you will get ten different opinions. We can all agree on one thing: doing nothing is not an option. Thus, Leiden University has been increasingly working to enhance the amount of recycled waste.

Leiden University has been introducing separated waste streams for the past six months. At the moment waste streams are being separated at many central locations, such as the main entrance of the Lipsius building and near the vending machines. Starting this academic year the university has four waste streams:

  • Biodegradable waste and food remains (green)
  • Plastic packaging material, metals (cans) and drink cartons (PMD: orange)
  • Paper (blue)
  • Residual waste (grey)

The goal, as stated in the Environmental Policy Plan 2016-2020 [https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/dossiers/the-sustainable-university/environmental-plan], to reduce the amount of waste to less than 250 tons in 2020.

Treatment per waste type
Biodegradable waste and food remains are being utilized effectively. They are sent to a digester, where a part is turned into biogas and the residuals are being processed into compost. Paper and cardboard are cleansed and made into new paper and cardboard. More than 80% of the paper made in the Netherlands contains recycled paper.

PMD can be separated well by machines. Plastic is granulated for making new plastic products. Cans are melted down for the production of new cans. The cardboard and aluminum layers of the drink cartons are separated and recycled, the plastic coating can be reused for new plastic materials. However, at the moment these measures are only implemented for consumer waste, not yet for company waste (such as the university’s).

Data collection for market steering
This is why the university is working on a market orientation to get our PMD- stream to be processed separately. Different systems and processes are set up to obtain better insight in the waste streams, especially PMD- waste. These data will play an important role in the future investment in university waste management.

In other words: the better students and staff separate their waste, the better the data represents the quality of our plastics waste. This is why the university encourages students and staff to separate the waste, so they can challenge the market to develop innovative solutions for the problem of PMD- waste for companies. Thus, the better the waste is separated, the better the quality of the waste, which will increase the chance of it being recycled in the future.

A sign is placed above every waste bin with indications of what should and should not be put into each bin. Now this is based on the often made mistakes so far. Through the regular evaluation of the waste streams, the signs can be kept up-to-date by responding to the separating behavior of students and staff. The next survey of the Leiden University Panel will ask panel members about their experiences.

Give your opinion!

Do you think waste separation and reduction is just as important as we do? Apply for the Leiden University Panel [https://www.universiteitleidenpanel.nl/en/home.html]. You will regularly receive a survey to think about topics such as waste separation at Leiden University. Input of these surveys have contributed to the development of PURE and the vegan assortment at university restaurants.