College combats waste, recycling for a change

It is a multi-billion dollar global industry, saves trillions of tons of resources annually, has an iconic logo and its virtues are sung aloud at elementary schools across the country every Earth Day. At the College, however, students, faculty and administrators still face the dilemma of how to prevent environmental waste.

For instance, a main issue often faced is that custodians throw away the contents of recycling bins along with the trash. Often custodians are simply doing their jobs to prevent contaminants, or non-recyclable items, from costing the College in fines and waste, according to an EPA report and administrators at the College.

The College looks to new programs to correct recycling habits. (Photo courtesy of tcnj.edu)

“We get reports from concerned people that we have custodians throwing recycling away with the garbage, but usually when we trace it back they were just doing their job of throwing out contaminated recycling,” said Brian Webb, director of risk management, occupational safety and environmental services at the College.

The fact is, if contaminants reach recycling centers, they can cause a slew of problems for the College, waste haulers and recycling centers.

“I’m really for recycling, but it isn’t always something at the front of my mind on a busy day,” sophomore chemistry major Taylor Horsefield said. “You aren’t thinking that a one second mistake of recycling a Naked bottle can cause such a big problem.”

This is one example of how, despite the national impact of the 1987 Recycling Act, recycling efforts often suffer from a severe lack of awareness.

To combat this, College administration has been refining tactics to help make recycling an instinctual habit for busy members of the College community. Educationally, the administration has been placing recycle information cards in freshman dorms to inform them what can and can’t be recycled.

“We currently have single-stream recycling, but that is kind of a misnomer, because when people hear that word they think anything with a recycle sign can be recycled,” Webb said. “People have to be aware about placing what where. We don’t want Naked bottles or coffee cups going in the recycling and turning the whole thing into trash.”

Logistically, the recycling cans themselves have also been a point of emphasis for on-campus improvement. The College is in the midst of a 10-year program for purchasing recycling receptacles.

The end goal of the program is to have a recycling can next to every garbage can, according to Edward Grubor, director of Buildings and Grounds at the College.

“We started to put a lot of thought into the labels we use on the cans,” Gruber said. “It’s a delicate balance because if there is too much on the signs and containers, people can’t process all of that.”

Recycling right would save money. (Photo courtesy of tcnj.edu)

In addition to the environmental stake, the College also faces an extra financial burden if recycling habits are not corrected.

“If a lot of contamination starts showing up at the recycling center, they can fine the hauler who can pass that fine along to us,” Webb said.

Aside from monetary consequences, contaminants in the recycling stream can cause a county to lose 7,000 tons of recyclables in a year, according to the EPA’s 2006 King County MRF Assessment.

“The thought is we want to focus on freshmen to get them while they’re young. Otherwise, if we put paper cards in every room, we’d be defeating the point of recycling,” Webb said.

Despite the steps taken by the College to spread awareness, an exercise held by the Bonner Center last year challenged students to sort real trash and recycling into their respective categories, but even the students administering the exercise had difficulty with the task, according to Amanda Radosti, professional service specialist and environmental program specialist at the College.

“There is so much information on what can be recycled and what can’t, the challenge becomes how to simplify it and distribute that message,” Webb said.

Raising awareness for recycling would not even be an issue if the waste management infrastructure was capable of sorting garbage and recycling on its own, but that currently isn’t a viable solution, according to Grubber.

While the College may not be able to support the programs at this time, the College is open to the idea of a student group adopting a recycling program as long as they coordinated with the administration, according to Webb.

“If we had a larger structure to support recycling then we could have crews dedicated to sorting recycling from trash,” Grubber said. “The end goal though would be to put all waste through a facility and have it sorted there. That would be the ultimate technology, but it isn’t currently commercially available.”

Going beyond common consumer waste, the College has made a habit of incorporating recycling into its regular business practices.

“When I first got here, we bought new mattresses and I saw all the old ones going down the street and I just thought, what a waste,” Grubber said. “If we have to purchase 1,000 mattresses, it’s easy to put it in the contract that the successful bidder has to provide some type of recycling … it’s just the responsible thing to do.”

These recycling practices have extended to scrap metal, computers, grass clippings and even debris from Hurricane Sandy cleanup, according to Webb.

“We’ve all incorporated practices like this into our everyday business,” Webb said. “We are responsible for everything from cradle to grave.”

Looking to the future, the College is working with Sodexo contractually to make sure there is a program in place to get into food recycling. While the actual sorting of the food would be up to Sodexo, the College would be able to haul the waste, according to Grubber.

Another huge recycling initiative for the College is the third annual Reduce for Good Use. The program collects clothing, furniture, electronics, kitchenware and non-perishable food on a request basis and donates it to The Rescue Mission of Trenton. The event will be happening from Wednesday, May 8 to Friday, May 10. To donate an item call 609-771-2548 any time between 12-8 p.m. and your donation will be picked up.

Reduce for Good Use has the potential to save the College money, save resources and help out others in need.