Recyclemania loses momentum, green groups look to recover

by Rebecca Szkutak / Beacon Staff • April 16, 2015

Over the last few years, Emerson has been working toward having a greener, more eco-friendly campus, according to Eric Van Vlandren, Emerson’s sustainability coordinator. In October, the college introduced new recycling bins that take all recyclables, instead of having to separate paper from glass and plastic, a system called single-stream recycling.

Yet even with this change, Emerson has slipped in the rankings of a nationwide recycling contest that took place earlier this year.

Emerson has made other changes recently, like removing trays from the dining hall in 2008 to reduce water used to wash dishes, and giving students a composting option for their leftover food in 2013. But Van Vlandren said the effectiveness of these changes is dependent on student commitment and student education.

 

Recyclemania

Since 2012, the college has participated in the annual recycling contest, called Recyclemania, which is meant to promote better recycling habits so schools can learn to reduce their waste, according to the Recyclemania website. 

Last year, Emerson posted a 30.1 percent recycling rate—the weight of waste that was recycled or composted divided by the weight of all the school’s trash.

This year, the competition ran from February 1 to March 28, and Emerson achieved a 25.4 percent recycling rate. Last year, the college had placed 113th, out of 256, but this year, with the lower rate, it fell to 158th out of 232.

“One of the things I like to say [is] we are a lot more recycle than mania,” said Jonathan Satriale, the faculty adviser to Earth Emerson, a student organization dedicated to sustainability initiatives. “We care about the recycle part, but we don’t get too manic about it.” 

He said the competition isn’t really about the rankings.

“What [Recyclemania] really is designed to do is make the school focus for eight weeks on their recycling and the data about recycling,” Satriale said. “It’s [the] time to notice and make adjustments accordingly; every year we get better.” 

Van Vlandren attributes part of this decline this year to the new company Emerson uses for waste pickup. Save That Stuff, Emerson’s new collector, replaced the seven different businesses used by Emerson last year and is much stricter about contamination, Van Vlandren said. If there is any contamination in a compost pickup, Save That Stuff will consider it as trash, which the old haulers did not. This has added to the percentage of trash Emerson produced by at least 2 to 3 percent, according to Van Vlandren. 

Earth Emerson and EcoReps, another on-campus peer-to-peer group that teaches eco-friendly practices, tried to help promote the competition outside the dining hall and educating students on how, and what, they can recycle. 

Van Vlandren said that although the numbers seem to have worsened during the 2015 Recyclemania competition, in comparison to 2014, the school has gotten better overall. 

“I will say I’m actually not a huge fan of Recyclemania,” said Van Vlandren. “I think that spending a whole amount of time on two months of recycling is maybe not the best use of our times and efforts. I’d rather just do something that raises the rate overall, all year round.” 

He said the rate of the recycling during this year’s competition has been consistent throughout the year, a change from the past, which shows that despite not ranking as high in the competition, the school’s overall commitment is improving. Van Vlandren attributes this improvement to the addition of single-stream recycling. 

 

Single-Stream Recycling

Single-stream recycling is new to Emerson as of October. This new system allows students to throw all of their recyclable goods into one container, which means they don’t have to sort through their trash. Satriale said this quicker and easier approach means more students are likely to recycle.

The new method also requires fewer receptacles, which reduces the amount of plastic being used to make the bins themselves, according to Emma Friend, a junior political communication major and co-president of Earth Emerson.

It offers a greener retrieval process, said Friend. Ideally, less waste will have to be hauled away, and the recyclable items will already by combined, which helps reduce the number of trips needed to transport these items, resulting in fewer emissions. 

Earth Emerson has worked on putting recycling bins across campus so that students can’t justify not recycling, said Satriale. Over 100 bins can be found on campus in residence halls, classrooms, and the Campus Center, said Van Vlandren.

One drawback to the single-stream procedure, according to Van Vlandren, is that the school could get less money in return for the recycled goods.

“I think its really important that Emerson continues to improve its sustainability,” said Friend. “Emerson prides itself on being progressive in a lot of ways, and sustainability is another way that we could improve. Especially as an urban school, we can show that it’s possible, even in such a metropolitan area, to be really green.”