Volunteers Sift Through Trash to Raise Recycling Awareness

Volunteers sift through garbage to separate recyclable and compostable items.
Volunteers sift through garbage to separate recyclable and compostable items.

As curious passersby stopped to watch the unusual action between Prince Hall and Thoreau Hall on the afternoon of Monday April 22, 20 community volunteers sifted through more than 1,000 pounds of trash that had recently been produced in the surrounding student residences and dumped on a blue tarp along the heavily traveled Southwest Concourse.

The Earth Day Waste Sort, hosted by Residential Life and the Office of Waste Management, was designed to raise awareness about the importance of properly disposing of trash; that is, putting recyclable and composting items in separate containers from trash that’s headed for the dump. The Southwest Residential Area was chosen because it has a lower recycling rate than other campus areas.

The highly visual event was covered by 22 News and the Daily Collegian and meant to help students and the community become more mindful about the trash they produce and how to properly dispose of it, says Laurie Simmons, ResLife sustainability coordinatorwho conducted a poll of students after they walked by the waste sort.

Of more than 50 students polled, 94 percent agreed/strongly agreed that the waste they create has an impact beyond them, and 96 percent agreed/strongly agreed to make every effort to keep recyclable and compostable items out of the trash. In addition, 91 percent agreed/strongly agreed to make an effort to reduce the amount of waste they create.

Volunteers wearing hooded white coverups, black gloves and knee-high yellow rubber boots used long-handled grabbers to sort the trash – pizza boxes, plastic soda bottles, beers cans, etc. Joining student volunteers were Ezra Small, campus sustainability manager; John Pepi, director of waste management; Lacey Olson, ResLife marketing and communications coordinator; and Mimi Kaplan, waste reduction coordinator for the Town of Amherst.

“A visual presentation of what is actually being disposed of helps students realize their actions do have an impact,” Olson says. “Several students talked to me about it being more clear that what they use/dispose of matters, and they realize the need for more conversations with their peers about waste generation and disposal.”

Of the 1,020 pounds of total waste sorted, “true trash” by rough weight constituted about 350 pounds, or 35 percent of the total, according to Simmons. Compostables with all liquids weighed about 500 pounds, or about 50 percent of the trash, and single stream recyclables weighed about 150 pounds, making up about 15 percent of the total.

In terms of volume, assessed visually, true trash made up 45 percent, compostables about 30 percent and single stream items about 25 percent.

Pepi says he hopes the demonstration helped students realize it’s worth making the quick-and-easy effort to recycle the clear-cut recyclables. “Never mind the complicated ‘gray-area’ materials – give us your empty bottles, cans and papers,” he says. “On Monday, this is what accounted for 90 percent of the wasted recyclables.”