By Claire Tierney
Clark students generally consider themselves environmentally conscious. We are all familiar with the plastic blue and grey receptacles conveniently placed in our dorms and living spaces. And we are all familiar with the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction we get when we utilize them. But did you know that your recycling efforts have been paying off?
Clark University has had an active recycling program for about twenty years now; with its best recycle rates hovering between 15-18%. In this past year, however, Clark students changed matters by bringing the recycling rate from 18% in 2010 to 29% in 2011; that’s over a 60% increase.
These are not made up figures; they are quantified annually by EcoReps, who take all of the waste acquired in all of the residence halls throughout the day. According to EcoRep Jake Kailey, it is then separated and sorted as either “recyclable, compost, landfill, or thrift store (functional but not new).”
The sorted recycled pile is then weighed and compared to the amount of recyclables sorted out of what students put in the garbage.
This massive increase in recycling is due to a conscious effort on the part of the Office for Sustainability, EcoReps, and countless others. The Office for Sustainability took a new approach and looked at the whole picture, asking themselves how Clark could better use its resources in order to diminish its wasteful impact on the planet and community. While the campus has worked tirelessly over the past couple of decades to “reduce, reuse and recycle,” Clark began to look at ways of doing things differently, more efficiently, and more resourcefully.
According to Jenny Isler, Campus Sustainability Coordinator, a series of changes were put in place throughout the year so that waste could be more efficiently disposed of or reutilized. Firstly, the Sustainability Office retrained “everyone who handles garbage or recycling in their job, including our custodial staff and the Dining services staff,” particularly those on “the front line of recycling.” Other staff and faculty were trained, including Residential Advisors and Peer Advisors, EcoReps, Clark University Student Council, and other student clubs. Basically, the counseling and retraining was provided for “anyone who would listen.”
The next step was to place a stronger emphasis on resource management as opposed to waste management. Isler says that “recognizing that waste is composed of valuable resources” is an essential part of this new program. In doing this, Clark may be assured that it “will get paid a premium to recycle better.” This means that Clark can expand its recycling program to include “more plastic (#1-#7), more types of paper, and more metal.
The new deluxe composting bins in some of the buildings (you have probably seen them in the bistro) have made it easier for students to recycle since they are labeled and accessible. According to Kailey, most people don’t recycle because they don’t know what they can recycle, how to sort it, and where to put it.”
Another key step for this movement was to create strong and dedicated student based Recycling Crews. These crews, enthusiastically described as “crackerjack” by Jenny Isler, consist of Captains who empower the Clark community to “re-think how we do the recycling process; then make the on-the-ground changes the students recommended.”
In addition to the Recycling Crews, a new intern was brought onto the team, described by Isler as “passionate and focused.” This intern is responsible for compensating for the lack of signs around campus that promote recycling as well as being generally green.
This intern is also responsible for spot audits in order to determine optimum “bin placement” changes that have occurred through this past year. In addition, the recycling intern helped to lead a recycling initiative, and was awarded $15,000 from Clark University Student Council. This funding from CUSC was used for the purchase of new recycling bins, as the old ones were reportedly purchased in 2005 and are becoming difficult to find on campus for students with recyclables to unload. The funding from Council was also used to finance an awareness campaign, which has apparently been quite successful.
The last big step that the Office for Sustainability made was to create a new recycling center that is safe, clean, spacious and free of any critters or unwanted guests.
The 60% jump in recycling is due to a lot of hard work on the part of the Sustainability Office, Eco-Reps, Clark Staff, and the rest of the Clark Community. The future outlook is only brighter from here.
If you are interested in getting involved with Clark’s Sustainability Office, you can visit its website for more information:http://www.clarku.edu/offices/campussustainability/.