UCLA’s Campus Recycling Action Research Team launches renovated single-stream recycling project

By Alexa Parmisano, UCLA Daily Bruin

Did you know that UCLA generates about 24,000 tons of waste per year?

Today, the Campus Recycling Action Research Team is celebrating the debut of the single-stream recycling project that will change the way UCLA handles its waste, and aims to motivate students to rethink and recycle.

This past fall, the team, which is part of the Education for Sustainable Living Program, worked with Facilities Management to come up with ways to effectively deal with the waste generated by the university.

The program is put on by the Institute of the Environment department and creates student-run teams during the winter and spring quarters to tackle sustainability issues like water quality, composting and recycling, said Chris Meehan, co-leader of the team and a fourth-year sociology student.

Single-stream recycling simplifies the recycling process because instead of having clusters of three recycling bins, all recyclables go in one bin while all food waste goes in another, Meehan said.

Starting today, all bins seen on campus will be paired up ““ one for recyclables and one for trash ““ and adorned with graphics that the team helped design.

The Action Research Team jump-started its mission to transform the way UCLA recycles with a Facebook survey completed by 100 students. Students were asked for ways that recycling could be improved, and overwhelmingly, students said the campus needed more bins in more convenient locations.

With these results in mind, the team members mapped the locations of all the trash cans and recycling bins on campus to show which areas were lacking and met with Facilities Management every week to plan how they would implement their recycling changes, Meehan said.

The project was virtually costless, as almost all of the trash bins were repurposed from old bins on campus and the stickers used for the bins were inexpensive to print.

However, students should be wary of contaminating the recyclables by putting any type of food in the wrong bins, as this could potentially create unwanted expenses, Meehan said.

“We found in working with (Facilities Management) that they were really willing to help and establish good communication with us,” said Kaya Foster, co-leader of the Action Research Team and a fourth-year women’s studies student.

With the support of Facilities Management, the team found itself on the fast track toward seeing changes happen, and members said they are excited to be taking recycling at UCLA to the next level.

“Students were able to come in and do the research that the staff did not have time to do,” said Nurit Katz, UCLA sustainability coordinator.

“It was a fantastic project and a great example of students and staff working together,” she added.

This past year, UCLA made the Sierra Club’s Top 10 “Green” Schools List, diverting 60 percent of its waste from landfills. The UCs have set a campus goal of 75 percent diversion by 2012 and 100 percent by 2020. With the single-stream recycling project ready to go, it seems as if those mandates will not be out of reach for UCLA, Meehan said.

The team will be holding a kickoff event in the Kerckhoff Grand Salon to celebrate the beginning of this campuswide recycling project.

Students will find a recycling basketball game, an information booth and an array of prizes to win including T-shirts and reusable bags.

While not everyone may be a rapturous recycler, the Action Research Team members said they believe with this new system, there is no excuse not to recycle.

“We’re making it so that the person who may not understand the bigger concept is going to make the right decision to recycle and tangibly see that they are making a difference,” Foster said.

She said she believes everyone can engage in sustainable practices every day.