New position oversees EWU waste management


Courtesy of Alex Thomas

Alex Thomas searches for recyclable materials. The new higher education waste specialist and educator will be working with colleges in and around Spokane to improve both waste education and waste reduction.

By Sam Jackson, Copy Editor

As a partnership between EWU, Gonzaga and the Community Colleges of Spokane, EWU’s Office of Sustainability filled a new position within its office to collaborate on bettering waste management.

Alex Thomas, higher education waste specialist and educator, began this position with EWU in September. Thomas’ participation in this position is granted as a service through his membership with AmeriCorps. The position’s focus is on waste education and waste reduction for those colleges, and therefore creating a unified education strategy for the campuses, according to Thomas. Thomas’ service consists of organizing waste collection strategies, analyzing current waste practices and deciding whether to change them when necessary for efficiency.

“[Thomas does this] to see what each university is doing well, what they can improve on and what the overlap is, so we can hopefully design programs that kind of support each other,” Office of Sustainability coordinator Erik Budsberg said.

A main way that Thomas gathers data regarding waste at each of these campuses is through waste billing data.

“So, each campus is billed for hauling out their waste but from those bills you can extrapolate data on tonnage and amount,” Thomas said.

Thomas also conducts waste audits to gather waste data on campuses—which can require going through waste that has been thrown away into the waste stream. Essentially, a waste audit can be done by going through waste that is in dumpsters or trash cans and sorting it by what is recyclable, compostable or what is actually just waste, according to Thomas.

“If you look at the national statistics it’s around 40 to 50 percent of what’s in our waste stream is actually organic materials or compost,” Thomas said. “Around 15 to 20 percent is actually recyclable material […] and that is something we don’t want in the waste stream. A waste audit allows you figure out what percentage that you are missing in terms of recycling and compost, and it also allows you figure out what those items might be. So, you can look at reducing those items or you can look at better collection outlets for those items.”

Thomas says the way that EWU currently handles its recycling and waste on campus is pretty unique because EWU handles and sorts all of its own recyclables.

“A lot of campuses usually contract with a hauler with the city that they are in,” Thomas said. “Also, EWU does a good job at compacting their waste in a centralized location which is a practice that is incredibly efficient in comparison to other waste outlets. EWU is doing very good on hauling [waste].”

One of Budsberg’s dream goals for EWU and the other colleges involved with the partnership is identical recycling and waste management signage on all campuses.

“If you’re at the [Spokane] community colleges you would see the same signage at Eastern or if you went out to Gonzaga,” Budsberg said. “So, it becomes more of a unified message. […] We are trying to think long term if there’s a way we can streamline that message. It’s been pretty cool having [Thomas] be there.”

For more updates and information on the Office of Sustainability follow the office on Instagram @ewusustainibilty or on   Facebook at EWU Sustainability.