Sign confusion leads to recycling revamp

Sophomore Lindsey Bergholz peers out of her dorm room window, which overlooks a trash dumpster outside of Pearson Residential College. To her dismay, she sees pre-sorted recyclables that have been tossed into the dumpster along with the rest of the trash. She has noticed this problem several times since she moved into her dorm.

“Right now there are tons of cardboard boxes in there that I saw people put in the dumpster from a pre-sorted bin of cardboard,” Bergholz said.

Bergholz’s concern about the recycling process at UM is representative of many students’ sentiments on campus.

Junior Abigail Haddock said it also seems that some students just do not seem to care about proper recycling habits.

“I actually just took out all of my recycling from the UV and saw recycling bags with banana peels, which are compostable not recyclable,” Haddock said. “The bins were filled to the top and had edible garbage, which everyone knows is not recyclable.”

Student concerns may stem from a widespread lack of awareness about recycling procedures on the Coral Gables campus, according to Energy and Conservation Organization (ECO)Agency Chair Jae Shrader.

“There is a lack of education and awareness of waste diversion, recycling practices, and what can be recycled,” Shrader said. “I hear the story all the time: ‘I heard, saw, know that things we recycle here at UM don’t even get recycled. They get thrown away,’ and I want to say, ‘Yes, it might be true, but not for the reason you think.’”

Waste Management is the company in charge of providing waste disposal and recycling services in the city of Coral Gables. Recycling bags must contain less than approximately 10 percent contamination – anything that is not accepted as recyclable – in order for Waste Management to accept them, according to Sustainability Coordinator Ian McKeown. In other words, bins that contain too much garbage will not be recycled.

“Let’s say you throw out a container of pizza … ultimately Waste Management is selling all these things and they have to be able to sort it,” McKeown said. “So if the cardboard is soaked with grease, the pizza box would obviously be recyclable, but if it’s soaked, they can’t sell it and that’s the problem.”

UNICCO janitorial workers are responsible for determining contamination levels before taking the bags to either the recycling dumpster or the trash dumpster. It is important for students and faculty members to know what can be recycled in order to prevent contamination and ensure that recyclables reach the Waste Management facilities, according to McKeown.

Understanding waste management practices at UM is also of importance. Waste is collected in trash receptacles with black bags, while recyclables are collected in clear bags. This helps UNICCO workers look through the translucent bag and determine contamination levels, McKeown said.

“Usually people who don’t know this get confused because, when you see a cart outside and someone’s throwing trash and recycling into the same cart, you’re going to think that it’s all going to trash,” McKeown said.

Though The Miami Hurricane contacted UNICCO corporate representatives for the story several times, they were unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

Sifting for solutions

To help clarify all of the confusion that exists, McKeown and Green U will begin implementing the Recycling 2.0 program. Updates will include new bins with standardized labels.

“Many of the recycling receptacles are oddly labeled and confuse people,” sophomore Grace Slawski said. “There is no continuity in our recycling system, so it misleads people.”

According to sophomore Andrew Stoquart, Sustainable U engaged in a Recycle Bin Photo Hunt last semester to gauge the differences among the bins. The group found more than 10 different types around campus.

“UM’s system is not user-friendly in the least,” said Stoquart, who serves as the group’s vice president. “There needs to be a systematic, consistent recycling system in place.”

The Recycle 2.0 program aims to fix these problems.

“I want to make sure every classroom has one, that every common space looks the same, every dorm, every office has a similar set up,” McKeown said.

For example, in Richter Library, the goal is to put a recycling bin next to each trash can.

“The idea is that you can recycle just as easily, instead of looking around and finding tons of trash cans and no recycling bins,” McKeown  said. “We’re trying to make everything convenient.”

Recycling bins will be labeled with images that illustrate what can and cannot be recycled through UM’s single-stream recycling system.

“Single stream basically means you can take newspapers, phone books, soft cover books, magazines, glass, tons of other stuff like junk mail, shampoo bottles, aerosol cans like hairspray, cardboard, and all those things can go in the same bin and get sorted,” McKeown said.

UM has been engaged in single-steam recycling since 2009, but still not everyone on campus is aware of this.

Sophomore Maneet Tewani said he did not know that all sorts of recyclables could be placed in the outdoor recycling bins with the blue tops.

“It says bottles and cans only, so how would we know that?” Tewani said. “They could maybe post it online, like on Blackboard or something, to get the word around.”

Raising recycling awareness 

In order for Recycle 2.0 to be effective, proper steps must be taken to inform the campus. The program’s publicity campaign includes an educational video and website. The campus can access the website by scanning QR codes, which will be on the recycling bins.

The website will have an FAQ section and will track the school’s recycling rate, which is the proportion of outgoing waste that gets recycled as opposed to incinerated or dumped in a landfill.

The Coral Gables campus currently recycles between 15 and 20 percent of what is thrown out, according to McKeown, and he hopes for that number to increase with all of these changes.

“There’s going to be a big push surrounding the Recycle 2.0 update,” he said. “How long that takes, it’s going to be a little while, but hopefully throughout the spring we’ll start seeing a lot of transformation.”

Beyond Sustainability, other departments involved in the change include Campus Planning and Facilities. UNICCO may also have to update its current practices to meet the requirements of the Recycle 2.0 program.

Although the involvement of so many groups means the process will take more time, McKeown has faith in the final outcome.

“A lot of the time people think they can’t make a difference or wonder what’s the point of recycling, but we have thousands of people recycling every day, and it does make a difference,” he said.

To read more about recycling, click here.