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Greenwashed: University of Windsor blames custodial staff for trashed recyclables

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The bins in question. Photo: The Lance

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A few weeks ago campus newspaper, The Lance, uncovered some interesting details about recycling at the University of Windsor. The outdoor recycling bins, acquired (at $1,000 each) a few years ago, are apparently just for show. Conscientious campus-dwellers may be sorting bottles from cardboard, but in the end, it’s all ending up in the same place: a university-owned compactor. 

Grounds manager John Regier told The Lance custodial staff empties outdoor bins into designated recycling and garbage containers. 

Here’s an excerpt from the original story by Darryl Gallinger.

The Lance dropped by the grounds garage located on Union Road. When groundskeepers were asked about sorting the garbage into the appropriate bins, they laughed. Jef Martin, university grounds worker, housekeeper and union steward for CUPE 1001, directed the Lance’s attention to the university’s garbage truck, where bags of pop cans, paper and green waste had been compressed in a packer along with the garbage.

“All the [recycling] containers outside, they go straight to garbage. They’re just for show,” said Martin, referring to the $1,000 outdoor metal containers. “We’ve had the new recycling stations for five years maybe … why go spend all that money, and not have the means of recycling?”

They used to sort cans, bottles and paper, but for the last 23 years (that I’ve worked here) it all goes into that truck,” Martin said, gesturing to the garbage packer. “It hasn’t improved one bit. The only thing they recycle around here is steel because they can get money for recycling that. Everything else goes in the garbage.”

Regier directed blame at custodial workers:

Regier insisted that the university has bins at the grounds garage for recycling and garbage to be placed separately into. “Basically, [the grounds staff] are full of it. If they’re not putting the waste in the proper place, I want them disciplined for it. They have no reason; it’s all available to them. If they’re not doing it, it’s because they are choosing not to do it because they don’t care."

The union which represents grounds, housekeeping and food services staff at the University of Windsor, CUPE 1001, has reacted to Regier’s remarks by filing a grievance. 

Here's the latest on this story by Darryl Gallinger for The Lance:

CUPE 1001 at the University of Windsor has filed a grievance for harassment and discrimination following comments made about custodial workers’ diligence in processing campus garbage.

The comments in question were made by UWindsor custodial services and grounds manager John Regier in the Lance’s June 13 article, ‘UWindsor’s little green lie,’ which exposed the lack of recycling of outside campus garbage.

“The union has filed a grievance, we have requested a meeting with [executive director of Physical Plant and Physical Plant Operations] Susan Mark about John Rieger’s comments. The grounds department wants an apology from John Regier,” said Dave Montgomery, president of CUPE 1001, who said grounds staff considered walking off the job after learning about Regier’s comments.

CUPE 1001 represents University of Windsor staff members including grounds, housekeeping and food services.

Tony Trojansek, one of the grounds staff filing the grievance, was upset by Regier’s comments but said he hopes for an amicable result.

When confronted with claims that recycling collected from outside containers went directly to the landfill, Regier said the grounds staff had the means to recycle available to them. If they were not disposing of recycling appropriately, that was because they did not care. He also stated that, “The union is actually trying to make a problem [the staff] look at BFI’s secondary recycling as a loss to them. They think it’s going to take work away from them.”

Regier added that staff would be disciplined for not sorting and processing garbage properly.

BFI handles a portion of the university’s waste and recently offered a new secondary recycling process where they rip open the bags of garbage they collect, pick out items that can still be recycled, and then garbage the remaining waste.

Regier stated that the grounds staff picked up recycling from the containers outside of buildings and transported it to the grounds garage, where it was separated into bins for waste and recycling. When a Lance staff member went to the garage for pictures, he could not find the bins used for recycling. Grounds staff members said that all outside recycling and garbage ultimately ended up in a university-owned truck, where it is compressed and taken to the landfill.

“Where were we supposed to put it? There was no recycling program for those [recycling containers outside of buildings],” said Jef Martin, university grounds worker, housekeeper and union steward for CUPE 1001, who stated a numerous times that grounds staff were doing only as instructed.

“They’re (the university) still not recycling on campus,” Montgomery added a couple of times. Recycling bins came in at the end of May, said Martin and Montgomery, but all of the staff had not been given directions for their use.

“Supervisors have been instructed to direct their staff, but only a couple workers had been informed,” said Montgomery.

Regarding outside recycling, John Regier said, “There was a lack of communication. Management made some errors in assuming that our staff knew more than they did. And so we’ve corrected those misunderstandings.”

Regier emphasized the good the university is doing with recycling, and the constant improvements being made, such as with BFI’s secondary recycling process.

“Our costs have gone up … recycling light tubes is expensive, the cost of dealing with computers; we’ve seen these things and we’ve accommodated them. We’re doing a lot better than we were five years ago, and we’re doing not too bad as compared to other universities.”

When handling waste inside of buildings, much of what goes into recycling containers ends up being disposed properly but both staff and management indicate that contamination is a big issue. When recyclables are mixed, or when garbage ends up in the recycling, it is still often thrown in the garbage.

University president Alan Wildeman cancelled an interview with the Lance regarding the university’s recycling.

“Dr. Wildeman is well aware of the recycling program on campus,” said University of Windsor spokesperson Holly Ward by e-mail, adding that the specific details are managed by Facility Services. “I understand from John Regier that discussions with his staff have occurred this week regarding the handling of recyclable materials from outside stations.”

Ward refused to comment on the grievance, but added that Facility Services “constantly works towards improving recycling on campus.” Ward alluded to the creation of a ‘recycling task force’ made up of students, management and union representation to build on current practices.

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