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Does our recycling system work?

Published: November 10, 2006
Section: Opinions


Have you ever looked at the lids on the thin, tall recycling bins? Theyre akin to those hammer and shape toys many of us had as kids. You banged the square shape into the square hole, the triangle into the triangle, and if you tried it the other way it didnt work very well. Recycling on campus is similar: the green lids have round holes for bottles and cans;

the blue lids have a diagonal slit for paper. Meanwhile, the trash cans are open to anything you offer them. Unfortunately, some people (and there was always that one little brat) are hammering the triangle into the square, so to speak.

Contamination is a big issue in recycling. Unlike that delightful toy, recycling is not something that can be easily intuited. Luckily, there is a website and campus group, politely called BURP (Brandeis University Recycling Program), devoted to helping everyone figure it out.

So how does the process work? Hopefully, as a responsible global citizen and a Brandeis student, you have a little blue recycling basket in your room (if you are lacking in this department, read on for how to acquire one). When you have filled it with rejected paper drafts, water bottles and soda cans, you take it to the nearest slim jim. These are the tall, narrow bins in your hall or suite. They may be blue plastic or cardboard. Once a week someone in your suite, or a facilities person if youre on a hall, empties the contents of the slim jims into toters (those big trash cans with rolling ability) or a recyclables dumpster, if there is one near your room. The toters are conveniently color coded to match the slim jim lids. Black toters and trash dumpsters are there for your unrecyclable garbage. Another important color note: recyclables need to be in clear plastic bags, not black ones.

A common problem in residence halls and other buildings is that black bags are often substituted for clear bags;

therefore, the facilities folks cant tell which bags are garbage and which are recyclables when the whole mess of it is brought down to Epstein to be sorted. The facilities people do good work, but theyre not omniscient. They cannot see through opaque plastic or determine what some student was thinking when he or she plunked a half-eaten cheese sandwich in the paper slim jim. If any food gets into the bins, the whole bag must be thrown out, as it is no longer usable. One way to avoid this is to give bottles and cans a quick rinse before putting them in bins;

also, avoid throwing food-contaminated items into them. Heres a general rule: if its sticky, it will likely make everything else sticky. And then its all over. Same rule goes for greasy thing, like pizza boxes.

You may be wondering, But does the system actually work? Is it just one of those programs SEA (Students for Environmental Action) implements to further its tree hugger agenda? The system probably works as best as it can, and SEAs program is genuinely true to its aims. Everything you put in those bins (that is not contaminated or put in the wrong bag) is hauled away by Wellesley trucking service to be made into new products.

Overall, the program is doing pretty well, and has the potential to accomplish a lot more. One issue is making recycling a part of everyones regular routine. Helaina Skop 08, who leads the BURP faction of SEA, commented that to some people [recycling is] just what everyone does, but for others its not really a part of their life.

BURP tabled in Usdan recently to try to educate students who may not be used to recycling and to help others who do understand how the system works. They had positive feelings about their tabling, including feeling encouraged by the number of students who turned down a little blue bin because they already had one, or who had educated themselves about the program. Some students even asked about how they can recycle off campus.

(Check out http://www.city.waltham.ma.us/recycling/website/home.html for information on weekly curbside recycling)

The good showing at Usdan proves that this student body cares about recycling, and the benefits that recycling provides. BURP ended up giving approximately 50 room-sized recycling bins to students who asked for them. More are available, if one e-mails hskop@brandeis.edu or talk to a SEA coordinator, who can put you in touch with the students leading BURP. The group also has a website at brandeis.edu/burp, where one can find out what is recyclable and what is not. Cell phone recycling is currently in the works;

battery and print cartridge recycling are currently in the mailroom.

Beyond SEAs independent efforts, one thing everyone can do to improve the system is to pass on observations of problems to Dennis Finn, the groundskeeper of the university who oversees the recycling program. These messages are being handled through SEA. According to Skop and other BURP members, Mr. Finn has been extraordinarily willing to help us fix any problems we identify.

While recycling is not his only or main responsibility, his dedication helps make improving the program highly realistic. If one notices black trash bags in recycling bins, or an absence of slim jims or toters where they are needed (like Gosman, for example, which is currently being addressed) send an email to Skop or a SEA coordinator, through the Club Center page, under the Political and Activism heading. Provide some key details including what the problem is exactly, where, and when it was noticed, and BURP will work with facilities on fixing it.

Making new items out of recycled materials is not just a part of the hippie save-the-world agenda. It makes social and economic sense. When the United States is dependant on foreign oil, why throw away oil, in the form of plastic, that can be used again? Recycling aluminum saves the energy equivalent of six ounces of oil. (www.yesworld.org/info/recycle.htm has more recycling factoids). So, fellow citizens, you can show that youre smart enough for Brandeis: Put the round shape (bottle) through the round hole and recycle.