By LETTIE STRATTON
Are you confused about how to properly recycle your glass bottle in the student center? Do you simply not recycle because you heard that everything eventually ends up in the same bin anyway? Fear no more! SLU will soon be adopting a new three-bin recycling system, according to Louise Gava, coordinator of sustainability projects.
Gava commented that the shift away from our current zero-sort system will be a positive one because the term “zero-sort” confuses people and falsely suggests that trash and recycling aren’t separated at all. The new bins, delineating between trash, paper, and plastic, will first be adopted in classrooms and common areas. “What we’re moving to is a trash bin, a green bin, and a blue bin, and keeping co-mingled containers (glass, plastic, aluminum) separate from paper,” said Gava.
Ideally, the new system would also exclude the use of trash bags for lining recycling bins. “We’re really pushing the idea of no bags in recycling bins,” said Gava, citing cost improvements, however small, as one of the reasons for this push.
Gava explained that campus custodians are responsible for keeping waste separate from recyclables when it is removed from classrooms and common areas and dumped into 90-gallon bins. “Part of the problem is, if someone throws trash in the recycling, custodians don’t have time to pick it out,” Gava said. “If we as users aren’t separating things ourselves, there is no maintaining separation further down the line, and the more we maintain separation, the more we recycle.”
Gava said that it would be a huge improvement to simply keep the signs indicating paper, cardboard, plastic, etc…up and visible in the trash/recycling rooms. One initiative of the new recycling program will be to have all new signs on the 90-gallon bins and to color-coordinate these with the smaller bins that we see throughout campus, in an effort to ingrain in people’s minds that a blue bin, for example, indicates the proper location for a certain type of waste or recycling.
Marcus Sherburne, SLU’s grounds manager, said that there is only one employee assigned to the job of separating trash and recycling once it has been collected in the Facilities sorting room. “We can always be more efficient,” said Sherburne, adding that SLU’s current system is very labor-intensive. When there are too many recyclables mixed in with the trash to be able to be sorted out, they simply stay in the trash, add to the tonnage of waste, and end up costing the university more money. “It’s actually costing us money to recycle,” said Sherburne. “We want to recycle as much as we can and we want to follow the rules, but the bottom line is that it’s going to cost us money.”
“We’re doing a better job not having such a large volume of trash,”Gava said, “the actual tonnage of waste is going down.” She explained that because we have less money to spend, we’re not doing as many things that produce trash. Continuing on with the discussion of money, Gava and Sherburne said that there are simply not enough funds available to hire another employee to pull recyclables out of the trash, but they are not short on ideas when it comes to thinking of ways to improve the system if money was not an object. Sherburne explained that SLU’s current recycling system has been in operation since 1996. “There’s huge room for improvement,” he said, “I think we need to make some changes.”
The new three-bin system will certainly be one of these needed changes, but Gava stressed the importance of getting students, faculty, staff, and community members to be more diligent with their personal recycling practices. “If everyone does a better job in their dorm, classroom, etc…it will help hugely,” she said.