Use, recycle, reuse, repeat. This is the general goal that UAA’s Office of Sustainability has been attempting to do to make the school a greener place. Throughout the entire campus, rectangular green boxes display signs with plastic bottles and aluminum cans, while blue bins signify paper products. Placed close to regular trash cans, most would believe that the process of recycling would be entirely effortless. But looking into various garbage cans around campus, they are piled full of items that could be recycled.
“I don’t get it. [The club] tries so hard to make it so easy for even the laziest college student to recycle, yet they don’t,” said student Emily Leary. “Especially in high-traffic places, and places where students eat like the Student Union and Cuddy they try to place recycling bins but still so many people ignore them.”
Leary’s idea that students are lazy can be confirmed even more when glancing around at tables in the Student Union. Subway wrappers, Mein Bowl napkins, and empty Red Bulls can be seen left on the tables and sometimes even on the floor. Paula Williams, director of Sustainability at UAA, sees a lack of recycling on campus as well.
“When I walk into classrooms in particular, I see lots of paper, plastic bottles and aluminum cans in the trash,” said Williams.
So what can the club do to infiltrate the anti-recycling offenders?
“When people have a particular mindset, it is hard to change their opinions and make them do something different,” said Leary. “Even if we had something like a recycling police force there will still be people who just don’t care.”
There are also those students who just do not know the facts about recycling, claiming the signs on the recycling bins are too vague and it takes too much effort to differentiate what is recyclable and what is not.
“There are too many different varieties of things that can’t be recycled that seem like they could be,” said sophomore Adam Parson. “I don’t want to sit and decide what is appropriately paper, what is appropriately plastic, what is appropriately metal.”
The Sustainability website does give some insight into what is expected of various items to recycle. Items such as paper plates, glass bottles, and coffee cups cannot be recycled due to unrecyclable materials within them.
“Be educated. Bring tumblers to re-use coffee. Most places give you a discount if you do that. Ask for your food to be placed in a washable container so as not to have to use Styrofoam containers or paper plates,” said Leary. “Rinse out water bottles and re-fill them. Ask for paper bags rather than plastic.”
Only small steps at a time can really make a change in the school. It’s not to say that the partial amounts of students who are recycling aren’t making a difference. The club manages to collect over 30,000 pounds or 15 tons of paper and cardboard each semester. That’s not including the bottles and cans.
To help really determine how well, or poorly, the school actually is at recycling, there was a recycling audit on Feb. 20. Initially a research project by Joe Hicks, a science major, it expanded into a full-fledged school-wide event. High school students were invited to participate, being randomly assigned rooms around campus to go to and collect trash from regular trash cans. The goal was to bring it back with them, go through it, and determine how much trash students throw away that can actually be recyclable.
“It was kind of weird asking for people’s garbage. I don’t think very many people knew what was going on so they just kind of looked at us like we were really weird,” said high school student Shania Thomas.
Even though everyone on campus was advised that the audit was going to occur in multiple ways, people were still clueless as to what was happening.
“There were just people wandering around taking trash everywhere. I was like what the heck is going on, so I asked them and they said it was some audit thing and I was like what?” Mikaela Andrews said.
The audit collected several tons of trash which is still being sorted, calculated, and number crunched. Results will not be available immediately, but rather after the office has a chance to analyze all of the data to determine how well UAA recycles.
Williams plans to use the data as part of her education on recycling, and determine what areas of recycling the school needs to improve on. As to whether this event will happen again, Williams plans it to.
“It will be either annual or bi-annual, but really the purpose is not just to improve recycling, it is also to raise awareness of how much goes into the landfill,” said Williams.
In the meantime, students like Leary will be working to promote recycling, even if it means targeting one student at a time.