Single stream recycling initiative fails to meet University expectations

Single Stream Recycling Article

Siobhan Murray

The University’s recycling levels are at a much lower rate than administrators had hoped for after implementing the single-stream recycling system in the fall of 2012. Audits show that the University’s recycling rate should now be 60 percent instead of its current rate of 30 percent. The University’s overall waste levels remain “horrible,” according to Merritt Pedrick, associate director for operations.

The University’s recycling has increased from 19 percent to about 30 percent since its conversion to single-stream, which made many more items that had not been recyclable in the past now recyclable, including #1 and #2 plastics and paper towels.

The University participates in the annual RecycleMania program, which is a benchmarking tool for college and university recycling programs to promote waste reduction activities to their campus communities, according to its website. The results of the RecycleMania collegiate recycling tournament currently rank the University number 23 out of 355 universities competing in the pound for capita recyclables category, which is “pretty good,” according to Pedrick.

“If everyone were participating in the program,” Pedrick said, “then the recycling rate would be over 60 percent, based on waste audits done in the past. We are making progress but the real progress will occur when everyone becomes more responsible at recycling and wasting less. Our actual recycling rates are relatively high, but we are still throwing away a lot more.”

The University decided to opt for the single-stream recycling system last fall after they recognized that up to 25 percent of items discarded as waste under the University’s former recycling system were in fact recyclable. Now, all recyclable items are mixed and collected in the same bins. These items include any sort of paper fibers (including newspaper and cardboard) as well as containers (steel, glass, aluminum and plastic).

In regards to the new system, “everything had to be changed; not only regarding which cans were used to place items in, but also who takes it out, and the size and location of cans, dumpsters and recycle sheds,” Pedrick said.

“I’m discouraged but hopeful,” Mike Patterson, director of facility services, said. “People are creatures of habit and may just not be used to recycling, especially if recycling takes a little bit of extra effort. We’re open to whatever we can do to make single-stream easier for students and for the Bucknell community in general.”

To raise awareness of the new initiative, Pedrick educated University faculty, Orientation Assistants, Peer Assistants, Residential Advisors and students of the class of 2016. They also posted information sheets about the program in many buildings on campus and sent emails to the campus community.

“I think it makes the process of recycling more convenient and makes it less difficult,” Michel Ajjan ’14 said. “I’ve seen people put a lot of things like food in the recycling that should be going into trash, which offsets the whole goal of single-stream recycling.”

Pedrick was especially disappointed with the lack of recycling during House Party Weekend. Nothing was recycled, he said.

“Sometimes we really just don’t know what level of food a container has to have in it to be able to still recycle it,” Maddie Seymour ’15 said.

“At the moment, if I had to give the students a collective grade, it would be on the verge of failing,” Dennis Hawley, associate vice president of facilities said. “Bucknell students are some of the brightest young adults in the world. They can do much, much better with very little effort. It is not enough to study sustainability in the classroom if we don’t live it.”


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