Trash-talking students help City of Ottawa officials

In most aspects of university life, trash-talking is not acceptable, let alone encouraged.

But for students in one fourth year engineering class, talking about trash won them praise from both their professor and solid waste services staff at the City of Ottawa.

Stephanie Beach, Taryn Glancy, Audrey Murray and Krysia Zurakowski were all in a waste management course offered through Carleton University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. As part of a partnership between the University and the city, the students researched potential health risks related to municipal collection of organic waste. They then presented their findings and suggestions to a representative from the city’s solid waste services division, which has been looking for several years at implementing a municipal composting system.

The group focused on pathogen (i.e. disease-causing agents) concerns related to home composting and health risks for workers at large-scale processing plants.

Their research included consultation with city officials in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Modesto, California, two cities that have had “wet” recycling programs in place for some time.

Their findings indicated no evidence of adverse health risks from organic composting, providing simple precautions are taken.

And the precautions have added aesthetic benefits, such as minimizing odour.

“One tip they suggested is to make sure the recycling receptacle is able to fit into an average dishwasher, so it can be properly cleaned and sterilized,” says Professor Paul Simms, who taught the course. “It’s not really an earth-shattering idea, but it is a good, practical suggestion.”

Murray admits that she and her fellow students were not presenting new information to Ottawa city staff, but they did offer some sensible advice for the public.

“I think we addressed many issues that residents might be concerned about,” she explains.

“And information from our report and presentation could be used to create information pamphlets on the program.”

From the city’s point of view, the project provided independent research about potentially harmful pathogens being emitted in the organics management process. “It certainly confirmed some earlier research performed by our own staff,” says Chris Wood, Waste Diversion Project Coordinator for the city.

Now that the students have some real-life experience with municipal officials, they will be better prepared to enter the work world later this spring. “A project like this allows students to develop their communication skills, which is a huge part of working life,” says Simms.

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