RecycleMania spotlights University of Minnesota’s recycling obstacles

RecycleManiaAfter more than 25 years in operation, the University of Minnesota’s Recycling program was proven to be slightly ineffective during a demonstration that kicked off the national RecycleMania competition. For the event, a fully loaded garbage unloaded its days collection in the middle of the University’s Coffman Memorial Union for sorting to draw attention the large recyclable waste stream that makes it into the trash everyday.

In total, 6 tons of waste were released onto the sidewalk, a mere 17% of the U’s total daily output. However, the most interesting statistic related to this awareness demonstration was not simply how much total waste the campus generates, but about how much of the stuff that is thrown away could actually be reused. According to program employee and U of M student John Weissert, after sorting all of the garbage from that days events, it was found that only 38% was actually garbage! In fact, nearly 38% of the waste stream also consisted of recyclables and another 24% was compostable organics. While the University has actively promoted their recycling program for many years, numbers like this can be a bit disconcerting to those who are involved in programs such as these. Especially in a time of economic stress, the money saved from diverting these valuable materials such as aluminum and paper to a recycler could be enormous, and yet the percentage of total waste recycled for the University continues to fall. To Weissert, these numbers were a clear indication that the custodial staff needs to be trained more adequately to improve access to recycling, and old programs need to be reviewed and updated to improve problem areas.

In either case, the Recycling Program sponsored trash dump at Coffman was  a pretty eye opening site to see; one thing I came away with: our trash is really a very personal thing, and it is our responsibility to guarantee that it will leave our hands in the most beneficial way possible. Recycling(/composting) begins with you!

(photo courtesy of Conor Shine)


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