Waste Not, Want Not: Pilot Program Makes It Easier to Compost and Recycle

EcoTab The Stations
Get immediate feedback on specific composting and recycling questions


Ever stood in front of the triple option of Recyclable/Compostable/Landfill bins and wondered where your cup, potato chip bag, or take-out plate should go? 

Customers at Local Point in Lander Hall now have the opportunity to see exactly where leftover food and other waste belong. Using software on an iPad mounted near the bins, customers can also learn what the eco savings are in terms of CO2 (carbon dioxide), landfill space, and energy saved.

It’s all part of a pilot project financed by the student Campus Sustainability Fund.

Designed for the iPad by former UW student William Zhou and his startup team EvoEco, the EcoTab software aims to educate and illuminate diners on the important step of where and why to recycle and compost correctly. Appropriately, EvoEco is housed in Condon’s Startup Hall.
“We’re really looking to create a proactive rather than a reactive solution which is how our current culture perpetuates this mentality of mindless consumption where you aren’t really thinking about or expressing responsibility in what you’re throwing away,” said William, a Seattle native who first found his passion in sustainability as a research assistant at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).


EcoTab Student Using
 Using the EcoTab software to specify a compostable item

First, an audit. Before the EcoTabs were set up at the Local Point dish return area and at a station close to the salad bar, William linked up with Jack Johnson, a staff archeologist at the Burke Museum and also a PhD student in Archeology, specializing in archaeometry (the application of scientific techniques to better analyze archeological samples). Jack organized an audit program with the help of student volunteers to quantify how waste is discarded (correctly and incorrectly). For several weeks student teams sorted through bags of trash, compost and recyclables to see how much contamination was occurring. With a baseline established, the next step was to bring the EcoTabs online and see if there will be a resulting behavior change over time. 


EcoTab Group Photo
 (l-r) Archeologist Jack Johnson, students Maia, Gabbie, Deja, Grace, Ella, and the project director William Zhou

“I heard about this opportunity when Jack Johnson presented to our [archeology] class,” said sophomore Gabbie Berger, one of the student volunteers. She says she had always been interested in implementing more eco-friendly activities in school and throughout daily life. “It’s great to learn about recycling and compost because most people don’t truly understand what that means,” Gabbie said. Admitting it can be “gross yet fun” to paw through the garbage, Gabbie added, “Hopefully this will help me educate others on proper recycling techniques!”
Kara Carlson, Purchasing and Project Specialist at HFS, helps to guide HFS sustainability efforts. “When you really stop and think about it, very few items should be ending up in the trash,” she said. “I hope this program will encourage people to think twice before defaulting to the trash when they are able to see the environmental impact each piece of waste has when they interact with the EcoTab program.”
Potential results. The three-month pilot project could have far-reaching results. Information culled from the study will demonstrate if the feedback dining customers receive at the points of recycling and composting effects disposal efforts. As a point of reference, if fewer compostable materials go into the garbage bins, then the CO2 gases given off by compost in a landfill would be reduced. For instance, one ton of recycled aluminum, such as that from aluminum cans, can save 10 tons of CO2.


EcoTab Close up
 EcoTab screen close-up

Turning philosophical, William noted, “I think one of the exciting things about the future is the application of technology in the mundane spaces we don’t really think about, such as in this case, waste disposal. To really drive change, we’ve got to make the proper financial and technological investment. It’s always very exciting and noble to see organizations like HFS and UW emphasize sustainability as one of its core values.”


EvoEco has a vision. Here’s a chance during winter and spring quarters to test that vision.
The program is also co-sponsored by UW Recycling and the UW Garbology Project. For more information, visit the EvoEco website.