Recycling Too Complicated for University to Get Right
This year's waste report produced by The New School's office of sustainability revealed that over half of the refuse placed in trash bins on campus could have been recycled, a disappointing indication that the university's community has ignored or misused the school's recycling program.
Designed to reduce the university's environmental footprint, The New School's waste initiative, started in 2010, gives students recycling options in the cafes, academic buildings and dormitories. The program includes color-coded trash, recycling and compost bins that encourage people to dispose of trash wisely. This year's waste report, a 26-page document, found that the majority of people on campus do not use the recycling program correctly.
In the spring of 2010 and the fall of 2011, The New School worked with Great Forest, a sustainability consultancy, to audit the university's annual waste stream. Over the course of three weeks workers from Great Forest took daily samples of waste from each of The New School's 14 buildings. These samples were separated into four categories: landfill trash, different recyclable materials, compost and other. The report found that the current campus diversion rate, the percentage of total
recyclables over the total of all waste, was 23 percent. While this diversion rate is better then that of the city of New York, it suggests that well over half of The New School does not recycle correctly, if at all.
Gwen Kilvert, the assistant director for sustainability, said that some people feel too busy to pay attention to their trash. Others think they recycle, but really put their trash in incorrect bins. "Students don't understand how big of a deal this is in New York City," she said. "The effects on the air and the waste pollution, it's all very integrated."
Kilvert and Joshua Cohen, The New School's sustainability coordinator, plan to place new recycling signs above trash bins on campus and in dormitories. Designed by Parsons students, the signs are intended to clarify what waste belongs in color-coded trash and recycling bins. Cohen said that the new recycling bins in academic buildings will make a big difference in campus waste streams, as many students throw their trash into whatever bin is closest to them. "It needs to make sense for people to recycle," he said. "We need to create a habit to reinforce."
But some students care more than the waste characterization study reflects. ReNew School, a student organization dedicated to environmental issues, hosted a community swap as part of Campus Sustainability Week. The event encouraged fellow students to reduce, reuse and recycle their belongings.
Other students feel pressured by their peers to recycle correctly on campus. "I use the different bins a lot more then I used to," said Diari Dieye, a Lang senior. "A while back I threw a bottle in the trash and a bunch of people yelled at me. They dug it out of the can; I felt like I killed a child."
While these student-driven initiatives reflect positively on The New School, the results of this year's waste report asserted that they are a small percentage of their community.
"We have a long way to go" Kilvert said. "People want to know that their university provides the opportunity to recycle, to be sustainable."