During the last week in February, did you notice students going around the TSC Hub talking to other students about recycling? This was part of an education and awareness campaign designed by USU students called ‘Recycling Awareness Week’. In a collaboration between Paige Morgan who is currently serving as the Recycling and Waste Intern for the Student Sustainability Office and four students from the campus course ‘Communicating Sustainability’ (ENVS 4700), as well as several other volunteers, students helped other students learn what items can be recycled, composted or sent to the landfill here on campus.
The recycling project at Utah State University started because of the large amount of contamination of the recycling bins with landfill and compost materials making the recycled materials difficult to process. In response to this contamination, it became clear that either something needed to change or the option to recycle could no longer be offered in the TSC. As a result, Paige Morgan and students from ENVS 4700 met Dining Services Director Alan Anderson and Recycling Center Coordinator Nathan Schwartz in order to come up with a plan that would educate people on how to recycle correctly while also getting them excited to do it.
The students from ENVS 4700 incorporated principles from their course for effective sustainability communication techniques such as asking students what their perceived ‘barriers’ and ‘benefits’ to recycling were and providing them with a sticker as an incentive for listening to their pitch about proper waste disposal. Paige came up with laminated educational fliers that student volunteers took with them to tables in order to clearly and visually present the information to students in the TSC Hub.
During Recycle Awareness Week, students also did an audit of the waste disposal stations in the TSC Hub.
Findings from the Waste Audit:
- 12% of the trash was contaminated with recycling materials
- 17% contamination in the recycling and,
- 33% contaminating in the compost.
The plan is to due a Recycle Awareness Week each semester and continue to collect data and incorporate effective communication techniques into their talking points in order to develop a shift in waste disposal culture at Utah State University. The students are also working to develop new signs with shadow boxes that will help students understand what items are recyclable, compostable and which items are not. In case you may be wondering about waste disposal yourself, here are some helpful tips to remember…
- Plastic bottles
- Any Plastics with the number from 1-6 on them.
- All loose food leftovers not contained in plastic or other material
- Paper plates (only the ones used by Dining Services on campus)
- Straw wrappers
- Soda cups
- Plastic forks, knives and spoons
- Condiment packets
Something that surprised many students was that by keeping large amounts of food, grease, and liquid out of most plastic items they can still be recycled effectively. The food, grease and liquid add to the contamination of the recycling forcing Recycling Center workers to send this large quantities of otherwise recyclable materials directly into the landfill. Simply lightly cleaning these items out allows them to be recycled thereby increasing the lifespan of the landfill. You can also look for the blue recycling cans on campus for these items since they will all end up in the same place down at the Recycling Center below the stadium.
After spending a couple days discussing the optimal habits of recycling with patrons of the Hub and then comparing notes among our group, we figured out some things we would have done a little differently. Some lessons we learned as a group included verifying the people we contacted understood the information that we presented. We received a lot of smiles and nods in acknowledgement but we aren’t sure how many actually listened. We gave away stickers to people that listened to our presentations, but we are not sure how many took it seriously or would pledge to work at improving their recycling habits. In the future, we may seek a verbal pledge before giving out stickers or having high-profile Aggies like Big Blue and the USUSA president take videos of themselves doing correct waste disposal and posting it to social media.
Overall the immediate feedback we received from people we spoke with was quite positive, but the ability to take it to a next step of ownership with those we contact would be even better. We still have opportunities to help educate others about proper recycling habits.
We will be participating in USU Earth Day activities to help spread the word about recycling at our table at the event which will occur on the USU Quad from 9am – 12pm on Friday, April 21. Drop by, learn something new, and help spread the word!
Logan Christian, Melissa Cobo, Brian Christiansen and Matt Landfair contributed to this article. They’re students from ‘Communicating Sustainability’ ENVS 4700.