Recycling Efforts get Mixed Results

By
October 7, 2004

A large scale recycling effort at Mills is being implemented by
Campus Facilities, yet many individuals are not recycling for
reasons ranging from being uninformed to the lack of convenient
recycling receptacles. However, concerned students affiliated with
the Botanical-Ecology club are working towards raising recycling
awareness.

On-campus recycling bins are not being properly used by
students, and when looking into the respective trash and recycling
receptacles on campus, one feature is noticeable- the contents of
the two are strikingly similar.

When people throw garbage into the recycling bins, the entire
can’s contents is corrupted; when the recycling is corrupted, the
recycling company responsible for picking it up, Waste Management,
has the right to throw it away along with the trash.

“The Botanical-Ecology club is working on raising awareness
among students on how to become more environmentally sustainable at
Mills,” said club president Shanna Foley, a sophomore. Club members
are developing signs to be posted in residence halls and other
locations to clearly explain what can and cannot be recycled, and
are starting a new committee to discuss how the college can begin
implementing more “earth-friendly” practices.

The Botanical-Ecology club has been involved with the on-campus
recycling program for at least a year, according to Foley, who
emphasized that recycling is not the only solution or step towards
a more sustainable campus. “I think the biggest problem is
consumption and we need to target that, but this is the best answer
to our problem of what to do with all this waste we are creating.”
Her advice to students who would like to see a change is to follow
the recycling guidelines that club members are posting and to take
action when they see something that shouldn’t be in the bins on
campus.

“A lot of things that can’t be recycled are in the recycling
bins, and things that can be recycled are in the trash bins,” said
Foley. She said that though some people are not recycling simply
because they can’t find a recycling bin where and when they need it
and don’t want to carry their items around; it has much to do with
students being unaware of how the system works.

“I think there is a tremendous need for instruction [with what
is recyclable and what isn’t],” said junior Lynne Sloan. “It’s not
that people are stupid or don’t care; it’s that they just don’t
know how.”

Foley cited a few common recycling misconceptions, including
attempting to recycle Styrofoam, plastic wrapping and containers
that are not labeled with a number. “Make sure it has a number on
it (one through five, or seven) and make sure it’s clean before
putting it in the bin.” When items are soiled, they are considered
trash and are thrown away even if they are recyclable.

“Our goal is to get as much material recycled on campus as
possible-to make sure that everything that can be recycled is, and
to raise awareness among the student body,” said Foley.

The clubs new committee on sustainability will meet for the
first time on Friday, Oct. 8 at 12 p.m. in the Tea Shop. Students,
staff, and faculty are invited to discuss concerns and ideas for
Mills to initiate more ecologically sound practices on campus.
“There are a lot of great people [at Mills] trying their hardest,”
said Foley, who cited the work that director of Campus Facilities
Paul Richards is doing. “He’s doing creek restoration and work on
Lake Aliso.”

In the 10 years since Richards has joined the Mills staff, he
has been on a quest to turn the Mills’ monthly average of 34 tons
of garbage into reusable or recyclable material. His ultimate
vision is for Mills is for the campus to produce no trash. Richards
has founded a large-scale recycling program on campus, which now
includes both composting and recycling.

“Recycling doesn’t stop the amount of waste; it puts the waste
back into use instead of sending it to a landfill,” said Richards.
“We live in a linear society. We need to have a cyclical
society.”

When Richards started working as assistant director of Campus
Facilities at Mills, he decided to survey how much garbage Mills
was creating and how much of it was reusable or recyclable
material. He took inventory after gathering all of the garbage and
dumping it out onto a large concrete slab so that he could look
through the trash, and found that about 50percent of the trash was
recyclable.

Richards found that a lot of the trash came from food waste in
the kitchens in the Tea Shop and Founders Commons. This year, he
started working with the local and employee-owned Golden Gate
Disposal Company to start a composting program at Mills. Instead of
having the kitchens throw away food trash, the campus kitchens
dispose of food waste into cans for compost, a mixture of decaying
organic matter, which is eventually used as fertilizer. Many
organic growers and farmers seek nutrient-rich compost for
fertilizer. According to Richards, the composting facilities in the
greater Bay Area have much more demand for compost than they are
able to supply.

One of the problems Richards finds that hinders the success of
any recycling program is the eventual waning of commitment that
results after the excitement of starting a recycling program wears
off. According to Richards, when he got to Mills, the recycling
program on campus was student-run. Eventually, Waste Management was
hired to take on the task of disposing of the campus’ recyclable
material.

Even today, the seemingly small amount of recycling cans on
campus are a result of what Richards calls a lack of interest. When
asked why Mills doesn’t have more recycling cans, he said that
there is “not enough interest to justify it” especially given the
tight budget.

Despite the low participation, over the past five years Mills
has improved their recycling program immensely. Where five years
ago Mills was only recycling five percent of their trash, they are
now recycling 50percent of their trash – the goal being 100
percent.

Above all, Richards stresses that he cannot get the Mills campus
to reduce trash output unless everyone on campus is willing to
help.

“Don’t complain,” said Richards, “Help. Tell me what I can do to
make it better. We can do this together. We can make Mills College
a place with no garbage.”

“We need to look at the individual decisions that we make,” said
Foley.


Recycling Efforts get Mixed Results was published on October 7, 2004 in News

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