Campus plans to renovate recycling program
The days of having to separate your paper from your aluminum cans are almost over. This spring, UCLA will transition to single-stream recycling.
By Sean Greene
Originally published in The Daily Bruin
Every other week, Diana Cheng and other members of Circle K, a campus community service organization, scour campus trash cans for recyclable bottles and cans that people have thrown away.
Usually, the group can fill six to 10 bags per night, depending on the size of the group.
Part of their motivation is to bring awareness about the importance of recycling to Circle K members.
“I think the way people look at recycling is, ‘I’ll do it if it’s convenient for me,’” said Cheng, a second-year communication studies student. “I’ll go out and see there’s not really (a recycling bin) near me.”
Most people tend to agree that there are not enough recycling bins and they are too scattered apart on campus to be effective, said Chris Meehan, a fourth-year sociology and environmental systems and society student and a student leader in the Education for Sustainable Living Program’s Action Research Teams, an environmentally focused class of undergraduate students. Each of the 11 total teams focuses on a specific sustainability issue on campus and works with UCLA Facilities Management to implement new policies.
“If students have no reason to put the recyclables in the blue recycle bin over the black trash bin, they won’t,” Meehan said. “If they have to search another five minutes, they’ll probably throw it away.”
However, the recycling landscape at UCLA will likely see major changes by April 22, Earth Day.
A switch to single-stream recycling or mixed recycling will overhaul the recycling system during the next two or three months.
Currently, students must put paper, plastic bottles and aluminum cans all in separate bins, often one of the 90 recycling clusters on campus. Mixed recycling simplifies the process so that all recyclables go into one bin, and the material is sorted later.
“(The new program) just makes recycling that much easier for people,” Meehan said. “Right now it’s a little disorganized. ... Hopefully, by working with facilities, we can change that in the next year.”
The new system will begin next week in a pilot program in the facilities building, where desk-side recycling will switch to the single-stream method.
Through this program, the university is hoping to divert 75 percent of its waste from landfills by the year 2012, a goal set by the UC itself for each of its campuses. Currently, UCLA operates at 60 percent diversion, with only 40 percent going to landfill. By 2020, the goal is to have the university reach 100 percent diversion, or zero waste.
But that goal is far off, said Nurit Katz, UCLA sustainability coordinator.
“In order to hit 75 (percent), we have to double domestic recycling,” she said. “It’s going to take a lot of education. There is a lot of waste that can be recycled that isn’t.”
Part of the problem is a lack of recycling education among students.
Many students don’t know what can and cannot be recycled, Meehan said. The team hopes to clear UP some of the misinformation through signs and stickers on the recycling bins.
The team recently conducted a survey to gauge students’ attitudes about campus recycling.
“People are really supportive of the change in recycling,” Meehan said.
Of the 600 responses to the survey, Meehan said many students are looking for better bin placement and more bins outside and inside the buildings.
Despite the changes coming to the program, some argue that the cost of recycling in time and labor often outweighs the value of the recyclable materials themselves.
“I think recycling has a feel-good effect for people involved,” said Economics Professor Michael Sproul. “The value of that plastic bottle is less than a penny, but the time and space they spent is a lot more than they had planned.”
Sproul added that the program is not economical.
“It’s a misguided program,” he said. “They think they’re saving resources by recycling, but in fact they’re wasting them.”
Ultimately, the university loses money on its recycling program. Although it receives rebates from turning in various recyclables, the rebates do not make up for the costs of the program, Katz said.
But for Katz, the effort remains worthwhile.
“We invest money in (recycling) because we believe it’s the right thing to do,” she said.
Meehan said that he would still rather recycle than send something to a landfill.
“Recycling isn’t the final solution; it’s to reduce,” he said. “Just like we were taught when we were kids, it’s reduce, reuse, recycle. ... Our goal is to reduce our consumption.”
While energy consumption is also a concern, Meehan said the usage is better spent turning the recyclables into something new, even if it yields a lower-quality product.
“It’s an interesting world,” he said. “We don’t really know much about trash until we start dealing with it.”
Published: Wednesday, February 10, 2010