One-of-a-kind project on waste management research makes big strides in 2019

Waste Wiki, a resource that provides research and data on waste management to academia, industry and government, has launched a series of new endeavours in 2019. In fact, since it was launched three years ago, one York U postdoc fellow with an uncanny skill for knowledge translation has grown this project exponentially.

“When you think of garbage, think of us.” Three years ago, this pithy slogan introduced the Waste Wiki project – the brainchild of Calvin Lakhan, a postdoctoral Fellow in York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) – to the world. This project, sponsored by Professor Mark Winfield, is a free, open-access and user-friendly platform for data, waste-related literature and analytical tools available to the public. It means that users can interface with timely and comprehensive data so that they can make more informed decisions. It is devoted to advancing understanding of waste management research and policy in Canada.

“This project is based on two driving principles,” Lakhan explains. “Accessibility of research to any stakeholder, big or small, and knowledge mobilization – that is, sharing information in a way that’s practical, understandable and useful to a non-academic audience.”

Waste Wiki is the largest online reference library in Canada to concentrate solely on studies devoted to the subject of waste and recycling

Lakhan, who earned his PhD from the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University’s joint geography program and degrees in economics (BA) and environmental economics (MES) from York University, has been very busy: since 2016, he has raised almost $300,000 in funding, including donations from public and private agencies, to study various aspects of waste management, from environmental attitudes and recycling behaviour to carbon cost calculators and other industry data and analysis.

From left: Calvin Lakhan and Mark Winfield

He also grew the resource: the Waste Wiki project now boasts more than 6,000 studies on waste. It is the largest online reference library in Canada to concentrate solely on studies devoted to the subject of waste and recycling.

Key offerings in Waste Wiki

This resource offers one-stop shopping for all research on waste. Key components include:

  • The Waste Library: the main repository for studies, as mentioned. It is conveniently divided into themes such as economics, behavioural or policy; activities such as collection, reuse, recycling and organics; and sectors such as residential, public space, industrial etc.
  • Industry data: Lakhan has downloaded and hosted files from Stewardship Ontario, organized by industry program with a description of the files. For example, he profiles the Blue Box Program, Ontario’s residential recycling program for printed paper and packaging waste, featuring materials on the program, a financial summary and municipal funding.

The Blue Box Program in Ontario is profiled in industry data

  • Five Slides or Less: Research Snapshots. Here, on PowerPoint slides, research papers are summarized in plain language, making the information accessible to a wide variety of stakeholders.
  • Waste Wiki 101. This section offers a series of short papers and discussion on a variety of key subjects related to waste management. Lakhan compares this to a literature review, which sums up all existing research on a topic. It effectively distills key concepts and theories into a short, two- to three-page document.
  • Waste Wiki Learning Series. This section provides valuable skills, training and resources to students, researchers and other stakeholders working within the space. Topics include key considerations for public space recycling and pay as you throw.
  • Interactive maps. Here, users can see the data represented on a map of Ontario and look up landfills, for example.

One of the Research Snapshots – this one, on issues surrounding socioeconomic inequality and access to public space recycling services

2019: A banner year for Waste Wiki

This past year has been a time of tremendous growth for the project. Several major ventures were undertaken by Waste Wiki in March of this year alone. First, Waste Wiki announced its research collaboration with Pollution Probe, a Canadian charitable environmental organization that is a leading agent of change at the intersection of communities, health and environment.

Three days later, “Waste Wiki – Reduce and Reuse,” a new online platform, was launched. “We partnered with several innovative pioneers in the field of reduction and reuse, including Container Pros, Kijiji Canada and Furniture Bank,” Lakhan explains.

The very next day, Waste Wiki@FES and Container Pros entered into a formal research collaboration. Both parties are committed to advancing issues surrounding reuse.

What’s next for Waste Wiki?

Looking to the future, Lakhan says they are working on several exciting new initiatives that can support society in the transition to durable, reusable packaging. For example, Waste Wiki recently partnered with Club Coffee to investigate the role of compostable packaging in Ontario. “We sit on the Provincial Technical Advisory Group regarding compostable products in Ontario,” Lakhan explains.

He also reports that Waste Wiki is working with Clorox and the national Packaging Consortium to examine consumer attitudes toward single-use plastic packaging.

“The Waste Wiki team is evermore focusing on providing guidance to stakeholders using an evidence-based research approach, with a particular interest in finding optimal, end-of-life waste management scenarios,” Lakhan says.

To learn more about this project, including media coverage, industry data and white papers produced, visit the website. To learn more about Lakhan, visit his profile on Research Gate. To learn more about Winfield, visit his faculty profile page.

To learn more about Research & Innovation at York, follow us at @YUResearch; watch our new animated video, which profiles current research strengths and areas of opportunity such as artificial intelligence and Indigenous futurities; and see the snapshot infographic for a glimpse of the year’s successes.

By Megan Mueller, senior manager, research communications, Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation, York University, muellerm@yorku.ca