As part of Maine Recycles Week, enthusiastic student volunteers worked alongside Sustainable Bowdoin student EcoReps to collect, weigh and sort trash collected around campus. Their efforts were part of an annual trash audit lead by Sustainable Bowdoin and its student EcoReps, aimed at raising awareness of unnecessary waste on campus.

This year's trash auditors wore white hazard suits, protective goggles and yellow gloves as they sorted through trash samples in front of Smith Union. Students said they hoped their visibility would raise awareness and encourage their peers to think about the amount of recyclables they throw away on a daily basis.

Over the course of the day, EcoReps and student volunteers sorted 36 bags of trash, collected from the first year dorms Osher and West Halls, into piles of recyclable and non-recyclable items.

After weighing these two piles, the EcoReps calculated the percentage of trash that could have been recycled.

"When the project began in 2002, we found that recyclables made up about 30 to 35 percent of trash," said Coordinator for a Sustainable Bowdoin Keisha Payson. "Now we are somewhere in between 16 and 20 percent."

Payson credits the educational efforts of the EcoReps in decreasing the amount of waste on campus. After conducting the audit each year, the EcoReps publicize their results and try to address the causes of poor recycling practices.

In previous years, discarded bottles and cans have been the biggest source of unnecessary waste. This year's audit, however, revealed a new culprit: bag lunches.

Sustainable Bowdoin has already made an effort to encourage using canvas bags, as opposed to paper ones for bag lunches.

However, the audit revealed that students were not just throwing away paper bags but the entire contents of their bag lunch.

"Students are unaware of how many recyclable items there are in bag lunches," said Payson. "[Students] put their apple core in the bag and then think the whole thing is garbage."

To increase student awareness, the EcoReps have already started to put up posters listing the recyclable items in bag lunches, including yogurt containers, Jello cups and non-greasy cardboard containers.

They have also been sharing the results of this year's audit at a Sustainable Bowdoin table in Smith Union.

The trash audit is just one of the many efforts the EcoReps and Sustainable Bowdoin have led to reduce unnecessary waste. The EcoReps are currently in the process of calculating the results of a food waste audit.

EcoReps who worked on the food audit scraped plates clean of leftover spaghetti, chicken parmesan and pizza, then weighed the uneaten food.

Though they are still processing the results, the EcoReps will use their findings to create a benchmark figure of wasted food at a typical dinner in Thorne.

"Food waste is a major issue," said Payson. "It affects employee labor, preparation and the number of dollars we spend on food."

In an effort to reduce food waste, other schools have implemented "trayless dining" in their cafeterias and dining halls.

Trayless dining assumes that when students don't have access to trays, "they are less apt to take more food than they can eat," said Payson.

Currently, Bowdoin is "tray-optional," and an estimated 10 to 20 percent of all students opt to go trayless, according to Payson.

In order to determine if trayless dining could significantly reduce food waste at Bowdoin, EcoReps will perform an additional food audit in December.

Thorne will be serving the same menu as they did during the previous audit, but students will not have access to trays.

If the trayless food audit reports a significant decrease in the amount of food waste at Thorne, it could increase the likelihood of a gradual transition to trayless dining at Bowdoin.