A more innovative recycling system

Margaret Ekblom, Senior Writer

As a University student who cares about the environment, I would like to see more innovation within our recycling system. For example, newly designed bins and posters would have a positive impact on campus recycling. The University’s recycling system could offer both a cleaner campus environment and a financial return, but right now the system isn’t being utilized for either.

The University’s goals for single stream recycling are as follows: “Reduce waste stream through sound purchasing practices. Reuse products to extend their useful life. Recycle products at the end of their useful life. Revitalize involvement throughout campus.”

The University has implemented single-stream recycling since 2006. The system consists of all recyclable materials being placed into one bin and then being processed and sorted by equipment. Single-stream recycling benefits the environment and is less expensive than traditional methods of recycling. The University’s goal is for single-stream recycling rates to surpass 60 percent of total waste produced on campus. Comparatively, only 20 percent of the University’s annual waste was recycled prior to the single-stream recycling system. 

However, University students, faculty, and staff are not using the recycling system to its full potential. I suspect that the design and placement of the bins are to blame. The color-coded bins are not evenly distributed; blue is for recyclable items and grey is for waste, but the ratio of blue to grey bins is skewed in favor of blue in many locations. Perhaps this ratio was intentional, but it is dated in practice.

I have also observed students standing confused by the signs and images on the single-stream bins. They are often unsure which bin to use when disposing trash, particularly food containers. When students cannot find a grey bin, they tend to dispose of whatever they have in the blue bin. This raises several questions and concerns. Where, for example, should compostable plates go? How should partially consumed food in containers be discarded?

Keeping the University’s goals and students’ best interests in mind, I am advocating for new bins with better signage. Other colleges utilize bins with three openings within one container: one for compost, one for landfill, and one for recyclable items. This recycling model ensures that appropriate bins are never presented in a skewed ratio.

New posters for the bins could include images of items actually sold at the Bison, Bostwick Marketplace, and other food vendors on campus. Since we already have a system for single-stream recycling in place, I believe that visually enhancing the bins and posters is necessary to improve its potential. 

In order to spark the sustainable movement and reinforce the living-learning laboratory at the University, we must properly execute the programs that are already in place. We could begin by investing in some new bins and posters to see if single-stream recycling can be improved. While the current system is an impressive start, all great innovations can be strengthened over time.

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