“We wanted to do something that would have a positive effect on our recycling and composting rates,” said Sarah Rykal, UW-Stout sustainability coordinator. “Our goal was to really lower our carbon footprint.”
The UW-Stout Waste Reduction Work Group developed a plan that began in the university’s residence halls. Now in all buildings, trash containers have been removed from classrooms and meeting rooms. They have been replaced with larger containers mainly in hallways and near building entrances that are intended for items that can be recycled, used for compost or sent to the landfill.
“The uniform system will make it easier to recycle and compost, so we expect to significantly increase both our recycling rate and our composting rate,” Rykal said.
Even though the project is new this year, the results are noticeable. The campus is in the middle of Recyclemania, a national intercollegiate competition to encourage recycling and composting. The university’s recycling rate during the first five weeks of the competition is dramatically higher than in previous years, Rykal said.
“For instance, in the fifth week last year, our recycling rate was about 17 percent and this year it's over 29 percent,” Rykal said. “Last year we placed 202nd nationally and right now we're at 125th.”
The three-container system was launched in the residence halls in fall 2012 and had success.
“If you make recycling and composting convenient, like we have, you see a sizable increase in participation,” said Scott Griesbach, executive director of Student Life Services and former housing director. “The new campuswide program will make recycling and composting even more convenient. Plus, it will raise awareness, enhance understanding and help develop habits.”
Rykal said it will take a while for the campus to become acclimated and accepting of the new disposal system. “We do think there is going to be a learning curve,” she said.
The three containers are for:
• No sort recycling: paper, plastic, glass and cans
• Organics for compost: Food waste; compostable food containers, cups and dinnerware; paper towels and napkins
• Trash for landfill: plastic wraps, foil wrappers, plastic bags, facial tissues, hygiene items, lamination and gum.
An advantage of having the compost handled commercially, Rykal said, is that an expanded list of food waste can be included. For example, meat, bones and eggshells, which normally aren’t composted domestically, can be done through the commercial compost operation at Advanced Disposal Seven Mile Creek Landfill, she said, because the waste is subjected to higher temperatures.
Advanced Disposal Services bought Veolia ES Solid Waste in November.
In 2010 UW-Stout began a composting program in dining halls and the Memorial Student Center. Each week about two tons of campus food waste has been picked up for composting.
Rykal and Griesbach said a lot of education is necessary to ensure that people discard their waste into the proper containers to avoid contaminating the recycling or compost materials. That is why each container has the proper waste material in big, bold letters and why the new system has been communicated to campus in a variety of ways.
“The most important thing is for people to be educated on what goes into each bin,” Rykal said. “It’s a culture change on campus.”
For more information about campus sustainability programs, click here.