Partnership reduces costs and increases sustainability at Alberta institution

Waste Management provides expertise to help Southern Alberta Institute of Technology become a waste diversion leader

With over 15,000 regular students and a campus that spans 96 acres, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Calgary produces a significant amount of waste. “In late 2008, as part of a campus expansion project, we sought a more sustainable approach to our daily operations management practices,” says John Millington, manager of facilities operations and campus expansion projects. “We knew to meet the goals of that plan, we needed a new partner that would focus on waste diversion and sustainability.”

Much of SAIT’s overall waste stream was ending up in landfills, says Millington. “We were not diverting anything significant in terms of organics. Recycling efforts were negligible.” Many of SAIT’s neighboring higher ed institutions had attempted waste diversion efforts without a third party’s assistance and were unsuccessful, so SAIT knew they needed to engage a partner with expertise in this area. After a comprehensive RFP process, SAIT’s Facility Management department accepted a bid from Waste Management because of the company’s reputation as a leader of best practices at the postsecondary level.

“We knew they would know what works and what doesn’t work,” Millington says. To start, the team at Waste Management performed a usage analysis to see how frequently waste containers were being serviced. “We realized that in a certain location, two bins were being emptied three times a week. We’ve been able to reduce that to one bin, twice a week, providing instant cost-savings,” says Gordon MacAlpine, senior education solutions representative. “With a reduction in pickups, and other cost-saving opportunities, SAIT will now save $85,000-$100,000 a year.” With those savings, Millington reallocated funds that had been slotted for general waste disposal to organics diversion and recycling. “We had been prepared to set aside additional funds, but now we can operate these expanded diversion programs within our existing budget,” he says.

Fourteen months ago, when Waste Management first began working with the institution, 82 percent of SAIT’s waste was going into landfills. Now, 68 percent is being successfully diverted. “We hit our second-year goals in six months,” says MacAlpine. Millington wants SAIT to be known as the best institution for sustainability efforts in Alberta. Newly constructed buildings conserve water and the use of chemical fertilizers has been minimized. Also, SAIT’s on-campus culinary restaurant is targeting to be net-zero in terms of waste, making it one of the first in Canada and one of the first at a higher ed institution to do so. “We’re now looking at every opportunity to be sustainable, and Waste Management has been there for us with the background and research,” says Millington. “We have the opportunity to leverage their extensive knowledge and experience.”

Looking ahead, Millington sees SAIT’s numerous commercial kitchens as a place to help get those diversion numbers up to the “80 percent by 2020” goal the city of Calgary has set for organizations. “Our challenge here will be engaging staff and students and making sure the proper products go in the proper bins,” he says. “Waste Management has done a fantastic job of keeping pace with all of our new initiatives.” Waste Management also helped facilitate another SAIT sustainability initiative, the buy-back of compost. A third-party organics facility produces the compost, which will be given to institution staff members. This “beyond bins and trucks” initiative is evidence of SAIT’s commitment to sustainability on a holistic level. MacAlpine commends SAIT’s efforts. “SAIT has gone from trailing the pack to being among the leaders, if not the leader, in Alberta for sustainability efforts,” he says. “It’s been a great partnership so far.”

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