Green Beat

By Anna Waugh

The vision: recycle everything, compost, and use compostable products to create a “zero waste” campus. Macalester and Eureka Recycling, a local nonprofit recycler with the belief that “waste is preventable not inevitable,” are teaming up to accomplish this goal.It is a big task, and custodial shift supervisor Jim Davidson said they have only “hit the tip of the iceberg.”

Over the past several years, 83 percent of the waste stream has ended up in the garbage, with only 17 percent being recycled. A study conducted by Eureka Recycling during the months of May through October of 2006 found that, “recyclables made up an average 37 percent of the materials by weight found in dumpsters.” At the same time, compostable materials and reusable items comprised 36 and eight percent respectively.

Of all of the material found in the dumpsters only 19 percent was “trash,” which are items that are not compostable, recyclable or reusable. This means a lot of material that could have been recycled or composted ended up incinerated or in landfills.

When Eureka was hired by Macalester in 2006, they recommended that the college choose a single issue to focus on each year in its effort to reduce waste towards zero. This year’s issue is recycling.

Facilities Management has put recycling bins next to all of the trashcans on campus, and has taken trashcans out of classrooms in an effort to increase recycling, Davidson said. They have also added new signage and will be introducing educational programming on recycling during student and staff orientations.

“Our major recommendation was to put in more recycling containers. Recycling has to be as easy as throwing something away,” said Alex Danovich, director of business management at Eureka.

There have been 409 new bins purchased in the last year-261 blue-topped paper recycling bins and 226 green topped bins for bottles and cans. The bins which cost about $15 each and the tops which cost just under $10 are an investment which Davidson said was “worth it to reduce the waste.”

Though there is not a full year of data to tell the exactly how much the new tops have helped, “[cross-contamination] has reduced drastically. The tops have helped,” Davidson said. The college has also restarted dorm room recycling boxes and purchased two new cardboard balers to replace older units.

“Recycling needs to be institutionalized on campus. When recyclables decompose in a landfill, that is the number one source of human produced methane, [which is about] 23 times worse than carbon dioxide,” Danovich said.

He said that recycling more, implementing composting and coordinating with the purchasing department to buy compostable goods will help to achieve the zero-waste goal.

“The recycling program is growing,” Davidson said. “As far as the program goes there are no limits except for how far and how fast we want to do it.