Recycling update: current program not cut out for long-term

Reduce, reuse, recycle: those are the tenets that many environmental initiatives are founded on.

Yet, with all the hype surrounding new technology that seeks to lessen our impact on the earth’s limited resources, sometimes the basics get lost in the shuffle.

The college’s recycling program is facing this threat.

Despite winning a STARS Bronze rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education in January, MC was recently forced to stop its student work-study recycling program due to a loss of federal funding.

Former professor Dave Powell originally started the program, but since his departure, no one has officially picked up the torch for the recycling program.

Both Andy McCall, director of the physical plant, and Bruce Guillaume, director of Mountain Challenge, recognize that there is a “gap” in the school’s current recycling program.

“I think individual people and buildings are very willing to recycle, and I even think a fair number of students are willing to recycle,” Guillaume said. “So, it appears to me that it’s not a big problem to get bins in buildings for stuff, and we have sort of end-use dumpsters that Spectra will come and pick up. But the problem is [transporting garbage] from the individual buildings where individual people are doing stuff to that big dumpster. That’s what’s not organized, and there’s no way to get that done. Recycling is fundamental, and that gap is a big, big deal.”

Rumors about housekeepers dumping materials intended for recycling into garbage bins are apparently not unfounded, but the housekeepers have a good reason for doing so.

Since the student-worker program had to be cut, the responsibility for moving the recycling from the buildings to the Spectra bins behind Copeland Hall informally fell to physical plant staff.

However, the staff does not have time to move the recycling during the plant’s regular hours, so they must work overtime to get the extra work done.

Because Spectra cannot accept paper recycling that is contaminated by food or grease, and since the staff is already pressed for time and therefore cannot sort through the recycling, polluted material gets thrown away.

“If it was a paper recycling and it had food waste in it, we’re told by Spectra that they won’t take it,” McCall said. “So, if it is contaminated recycling, it goes in the trash. That is a fact.”

Though the college does not recycle glass, there is a meeting scheduled for this week with Rock Tenn, a local packaging company, to discuss potential options for future recycling.

Materials that are currently collected for recycling include plastic, aluminum and paper.

Before the recycling was someone’s job, it was taken care of by student volunteers. However, as McCall pointed out, “students are here for an education,” and therefore recycling falls lower on priority lists than exams and important papers. Because of this, the efforts were inconsistent.

“I wish there was a way that we could be consistent, and it would be nice if it could be a total student program, but we’ve had some inconsistencies with that in the past,” McCall said. “Now, if we could work through that, that would be great …  but there would need to be something to cover it when student workers are gone.”

The problem of what to do with the recycling during the summer, when students are gone, has always been an issue.

When students leave for vacation, the residence halls and campus continue to get used and generate recycling, but there are no students to take it to the Spectra bins, so housekeeping has generally picked up the slack then, too.

There are a limited number of overtime hours that physical plant staff can continue to use in order to take out the recycling, so unless more staff members are hired to help out, the current situation is not a long-term solution.

In order to keep the recycling from attracting pests and piling up, it must be removed twice a week.

This typically takes one or two workers, after their eight-hour shifts, between two and three hours to complete.

“There needs to be a program that’s sustainable, that’s consistent, and I think that it will benefit everybody,” McCall said. “If it needs to be that it’s somebody’s job description … it is a fulltime job. To do the labor we’re doing, we’re going over and above just to make due right now … all of our people have duties assigned, and recycling isn’t one of them.”

McCall believes that the college needs to have a firm commitment either to recycle or simply not.

McCall has no problems with students helping out as supplemental workers, or even taking it on entirely, as long as the work gets done.

“This business of sometimes we do it, sometimes we don’t, that’s not a good way of having anything,” McCall said. “The college and the student body need to decide, do we want to recycle? … If you do, then you need to come up with a system that works.”

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