Recycling 101: 3 Case Studies

April 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

During the first breakout session of this year’s Northeast Campus Sustainability Consortium (NECSC) Conference, held this year in the Syracuse University Sheraton, presenters from three different colleges and universities presented some case studies about personal experiences with the challenges of campus recycling.

Lorinda Hill: Night Maven

First up was Lorinda Hill, the recycling coordinator at Rockland Community College (RCC), a SUNY school in Suffern, New York. Known for her energy and dedication to her job, she was introduced to the crowd by one of her mottos: “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade – and compost the rest!” Lorinda presented her problem to the group – how can you encourage night students to recycle? She has had major successes with the day students at RCC, using informational signage, integrated learning materials, and her “Recycling Rangers” program, where she awards a sticker to those she sees recycling property. She says that while it may seem childish, it does keep encouraging people. Apparently, both kindergardeners and college students see the value in stickers – and it has been extremely successful.

Ms. Hill explained that despite the success of her daytime recycling campaigns, the smaller yet still significantly sized group of night students were not as environmentally conscious. Her night staff had actually been pulling recyclables from trash bags in order to keep the stream pure, but obviously this couldn’t go on. She had a few theories about why this might be a problem – night students are likely more tired, having often come from a full day of work; they are more distracted; and they are often only on campus for just the one class they are attending, unlike day students, who tend to take multiple classes throughout the day. To get to the root of this problem, Lorinda issued a quick 10-question survey. The results, however, were not necessarily what she expected.

The first question was simple: Do you recycle on campus? Well, most said yes. This conflicted with both the findings of her night staff, as well as with the answers to the following question, “Do you dispose of materials in the proper bin?” to which most replied that they didn’t. Additionally, later questions revealed that students didn’t necessarily know RCC’s recycling policies. Other questions sought to find out if students recycled at home, to see if maybe rebellion against values at home was in fact the cause of the problem.

Though many of the questions provided conflicting or ambiguous answers, some interesting trends could be noticed. The questions revealed that recycling was important to the majority of students – or at least they knew that society expected it to be, since they all generally said they it was important to them. This shows an important shift in the values of our society. Just like children have started to grow up being taught that cigarettes are bad for you and that all people are equal, they too are being taught that our environment is important and we should be taking care of it.

The surveys proved that the students all know that they’re supposed to recycle, they just may not do it for a variety of reasons. Other things often take precedence, or they might just be unaware of recycling polices, as Ms. Hill discovered. Overwhelmingly, however, people did recycle at home. Lorinda and her staff decided that based on these findings, the solution to this problem would be simple: do exactly the same thing they had been doing for the day students. More education, the Recycling Rangers program, and just making people excited and happy to recycle.

Towards Zero Waste: An Initiative for the BU Student Union

Up next were Dennis Carlberg, Sustainability Coordinator, and Sabrina Pashtan, Food Sustainability Coordinator at Boston University, who presented us with the process that has led them and their university to create an environmentally friendly Student Union on its way to achieving zero waste.

Boston University is a large school, with approximately 33,000 students spread across 17 schools and colleges in 329 buildings in the city of Boston, right along the Charles River. There, communication has become a foundation of sustainability. Since the campus sustainability program began in 2009, the coordinators of the program have used the internet to its fullest extent, presenting stunning visual representations of statistics right on their website’s homepage. Additionally, they make constant and consistent use of newsletters sent out to the student body.

Combined with their use of the internet is BU’s “Mug Challenge.” Students are encouraged to always use their own mug at campus/off campus coffee shops, rather than wasteful cardboard cups each time. Most of these shops have actually begun giving small discounts if you use the campus-provided mug, and students have shown an amazing response. The school uses the website Carbonrally.com to take care of the metrics, and three of their schools are in the National Top Five, along with Syracuse University and Notre Dame.

Offline, the school’s environmental-friendliness keeps going strong. The school offers a Green Campus Tour, as well as Green Office certifications for its staff, whose departments compete with an online leader board. On the student side, there is dining hall composting, trayless dining, cardboard boilers, the reusable mug discounts, and more. In fact, they were able to create a shift from 3 to 31% recycling from 2006 to 2012, though now it’s starting to plateau, leading Mr. Carlberg to ask, “What now?”

He decided to start with a “Trash Buddy” program. Trash buddies are little trash cans that sit inside your recycling bins, serving the dual purpose of saving space while reminding the user that there should be much more to reuse than to throw away. Another awesome addition was the placement of “Big Belly” Solar trash compactors around campus, which has reduced trash collection from 14 to 1.6 times per week, saving time, money, and preventing a lot of CO2 emissions that carting away the trash would normally cause. There’s also a program, coordinated with Goodwill, for students to donate anything they would normally have thrown out as the cleaned up to leave for the summer, reducing waste exponentially.

Sabrina Pashtan, Sustainability Coordinator for BU Food Services, stepped up to continue the conversation, focusing on the improvements being made to the George Sherman Student Union, especially in the Food Court. Starting a year or two following the introduction of a sustainability program to the university as a whole, the staff in the Student Union began to receive recycling training, to improve sorting of recyclables and compostables in the back-of-house. Next, compostable tableware was added as an option. But the biggest change came next.

The Union was soon renovated, and 5 sorting stations were added which containing slots for recycling, landfill (trash), and a double slot for compost, to emphasize how much can actually be composted. To help students learn the ropes of these sustainable practices, a “Green Team” of student volunteers who help out incoming freshman during the first few weeks of each year. To keep improving the Student Union, a water bottle filling station was added, and reusable tableware became an option for in-house dining. Condiments, from ketchup to soy sauce, are now served in bulk, and a reusable to-go container program was added to reduce the use of styrofoam and cardboard. Overall, this has resulted in a Green Restaurant certification for the Union, and diversion rate of over 75%!

They’re not stopping there. The success BU has had in the Student Union has caused staff and students alike to ask if it can be spread elsewhere. So now, the same principles governing the Union staff now apply to the Catering staff. All catering events are now waste-free, with the wait staff trained to sort materials while they clean. For non-staffed events, there is a zero-waste pickup program in place. The university could not be happier.

University Recycling: Engaging Students Through Creative Programming

The third and final presentation of the afternoon came from Emily Ball, a Masters Candidate at Clarkson University. Emily works as an intern for Clarkson’s Sustainability Division, and is in charge of their recycling campaign. Emily discussed with us the various methods she used to improve recycling rates at Clarkson.

Emily’s main plan of action was to increase awareness, and subsequently involvement. She started by teaming up with the other interns and plastering the campus in educational materials, including informational signs on all recycling bins around campus. Clarkson is on a zero-sort system, so deciding between plastic/cans/bottles/paper wasn’t the issue. Instead, it was solely a problem of getting students to recycle rather than throw things in the trash.

Ball knew that she had to make recycling easy, so students could get involved and become enthusiastic about it. She tried to get bins out to the students, but ended up having limited success with this initiative, since she had to distribute them by hand on a weekend. She had some success, however, getting funding for three new outdoor recycling bins to be placed around campus, which came with consistent, professional posters to alleviate confusion.

Emily’s biggest success, however, came from the “Recycled Molly” program. These “Mollys” were clear plastic molds of human shapes, made from cellophane and packing tape, filled with recyclable materials. These Mollys were placed around campus in highly visible areas, decked in signs with educational materials. Ball found extreme success in this program, since students were intrigued and amused by the statues, which often took recognizable shapes, such as that of (former) Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow in his kneeling position. Ball looks to continue with visual pieces like these.

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