RecycleMania invigorates efforts

The College often finds itself winning an easy first place in many competitions, but currently, it is ranked third behind Conn. College and Amherst in one nationwide contest. Instead of focusing on academics or athletics, this competition challenges colleges to reduce waste, increase recycling and raise student awareness of campus waste minimization and recycling efforts. Students and Facilities staff have banded together to teach other campus members that throwing trash in the right place is just as important as throwing it away in general.

On Jan. 27, the College entered RecycleMania, an annual competition that measures the amount of recyclables, waste and compost that colleges produce. “It is a great program that encourages colleges and universities to participate in a friendly competition to reduce waste and increase recycling,” said Stephanie Boyd, acting director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives. It takes place over a 10-week period, and will end April 6.

This is the College’s second year taking part in the competition. Last year, the decision to join was made at the last minute. Partly because of the relatively late decision to enter, those involved in the competition focused on implementing the measuring system, and not necessarily on publicizing the goals the competition presents. “Facilities, especially the custodial staff, did a lot of work in that first year to get the program off the ground. Now, it is part of our regular programming,” Boyd said.

This year, the College has expanded the scope of its participation. “Last year, we participated in the original contest – the Per Capita Classic – where schools compete to see who can collect the most recyclables (paper, compost, bottles and cans and cardboard) per person,” said Boyd. This year the College has also joined the Waste Minimization competition. “Not only will we be competing for the most recycled material per capita but we will also be trying to have the smallest amount of total waste.”

Last year, Facilities set up a successful system of tracking Williams’ waste and recycling – the same system they have been using this year. “We’re pretty much measuring the way we did last year, because of the way [waste is] picked up on campus,” said Miles.

In hopes of helping the competition to have a greater impact on the College community, Facilities has recently linked its efforts to the growing sustainability movement on campus. “Once we got into recycling, people seemed to get into it with us,” said Miles. “With the sustainability movement [gaining popularity] we thought we’d keep [recycling as an issue] out there, and this would be a good way of doing that.”

Peter Mason and Dick McMahon, both Supervisors of Custodial Services, have been supervising a RecycleMania committee. The two have also been working with Boyd and several students on brainstorming ways to better publicize the competition and planning events that complement the competition’s focus.

“[Boyd] talked to Thursday Night Group,” said Carynne McIver ’08 who has been heavily involved in publicizing the RecycleMania competition. “I started [getting involved with recycling] at the beginning of the year, talking about recycling in Paresky, which has been a huge problem.”

Indeed, a large amount of the publicity and outreach that McIver has helped spearhead has focused on the existing recycling problems found within the College’s student center.

“The biggest problem in Paresky is contamination,” said Miles. “People have been very diligent about recycling their stuff, and then someone will come along and throw a cup of coffee into the paper recycling.”

The addition of one extraneous item to a specific recycling bin can easily contaminate that bag, the entirety of which is then thrown away.

“It’s been disappointing,” said Doug Schiazza, director of Campus Life about Paresky’s recycling situation. “We’ve got recycling bins all over this building but people just aren’t good at [recycling].”

Originally, it was noted that problems could have been arising due to trash overflow. “Paresky is a fairly new building,” said Miles, and a new building that generates a great deal of trash. “We’ve had enough room in the recycling bins, [but] we seem to be overflowing in trash because there’s a long period of time when nobody’s there to empty it.”

Facilities decided to increase the size of the trash receptacles, and installed larger containers in the hopes of assuaging the problem. “Now we’re looking at [other] things we could do in the future,” said Miles. “As in all of our buildings I think there’s room for improvement.”

In the meantime, Miles has been working with interested students in order to brainstorm new ideas and implement specific plans, which include adding signs to receptacle areas and sending out daily messages telling students what they can and can’t recycle.

“I’ve been in contact with students who have been asking to put in new signage,” Miles said. She also said that students are interested in “continuing to unify our trash and recycling receptacles.”

The students working on recycling have split into two groups: one is working on long-term advertising for RecycleMania, which includes submitting daily messages and putting up posters around campus. The other has been focusing on organizing major events that spread awareness of recycling on campus.

McIver’s event-oriented group arranged a recycling fair in Paresky on Monday. “We let people know how to recycle and why recycling is worthwhile.” The fair focused on energy-saving efforts, and included a quick quiz for students to complete, “How Recyclable Are You?” The fair highlighted other methods anyone can use to reduce their consumption individually.

“I know that I can make minor changes in my life that won’t really affect me,” said Gean Spektor ’10, who helped to organize the recycling fair. She wants students to focus on these smaller changes that won’t be painful to do or change. These include “composting, recycling, taking shorter showers and turning off the water while brushing your teeth.”

One of the major impediments to this system has been when passers-by place discarded newspapers or magazines into the red paper receptacles when their actual spot is located beneath the black wire newspaper racks that can be found close to the receptacle area. Cardboard should be broken down and put by the magazine rack to be picked up and recycled.

“Finding newspaper in the paper bins has been another problem,” said McIver. “People recycle their newspapers into recycling bins. They’re trying to do the right thing, but custodians can’t sort through everything.”

Paper bins found contaminated with newspapers are for the most part discarded.

“I’ll look in trash cans and plastic bottles are in there all the time – students could easily put them in the bin next to it.” McIver is now “just trying to let people know where everything goes.”

This problem can be traced to problems encountered during the development of the College’s recycling program which began in the “late eighties, early nineties,” according to Christina Cruz, research assistant for the Vice President of Strategic Planning and the Institutional Diversity Office. Along with a student from the Center of Environmental Studies (CES), Cruz, who at that time worked for Building and Grounds, helped develop and implement a recycling program.

According to Cruz, the recycling program at the College hasn’t changed very much over the years. “It is basically the same as when we started it nearly 20 years ago,” said Cruz. “Even the logo stuck!”

Cruz noted that the problems she encountered at the beginning of the program’s implementation were “not in getting the program started, [but] in getting the community to recycle. We knew this would be the case, so we did have promotional gimmicks in place to kick it off and teach everyone ‘what’ was recyclable and ‘where’ to put it.”

Given current efforts to publicize and popularize the idea of recycling, and the emphasis on “where” to put “what,” the difficulties facing recycling at the College have lessened but not necessarily changed.

“Often, how we deal with waste is unseen to most of us,” said Boyd. “Spending a little time each year (or everyday) to think about the amount of waste we generate and where it goes is important.”