Issue #11: Separating Recyclables From Trash?

Dear Sustainable Abigail,

I live in Cheney house, and I notice that the recycling is being filled with trash and the trash is often filled with recyclable materials. Do Bates students just not care about proper waste disposal and recycling? And if this happens, does the entire recycling bin have to become a trash or is there someone that sorts out the trash from the recyclable materials?

-Revolted by Refuse (Improperly Recycled)

Dear Revolted by Refuse,

Yikes, I’m afraid you have hit a raw nerve for me Revolted by Refuse. I worry constantly about what Bates students are thinking about when they improperly dispose of waste, because we Batesies are in a unique position on this campus to have some pretty intricate and helpful waste receptacles. Nonetheless, it is an important point to address: sometimes waste gets lost in the hands of those who may not know what to do with it, or in the hands of those who may be too lazy or unconcerned to make the effort. As much as it grinds my gears that there are still instances where trash ends up in recycling and vice versa, it also is an important thing to note because it brings up a sad but realistic part of working in sustainability: half the job is making sustainability the easier option in any given situation. Now, I realize that this is a hard thing to swallow, and I make no claims that this is always the case nor that it should it be. As a founding figure in Environmental Ethics Aldo Leopold once warned, we must be wary of the mistake of attempting to make conservation easy to the point where it becomes trivial (246 A Sand County Almanac). Nonetheless, where we are at this point in time does involve the work of making sustainability easy. The Ecoreps spend a lot of time trying to make sustainability accessible and preferred, because in the fast paced world that Bates students and beyond live, the largest and most basic strides towards a more sustainable world are going to come from making sustainability a norm, and to do that, it realistically has to be an easy option. So, I guess what I’m saying here is that it perhaps is not that Batesies don’t care about proper waste disposal, but that there are so many other things going on things just get lost along the way, and unfortunately one of those things is proper waste disposal sometimes. Now, I’ve only spoken to the first of your questions, and your second question is a great one too. Unfortunately, I don’t have a happy answer for you. So here’s how it works: If the waste that is meant to be brought to the recycling company from Bates is comprised of more than 15-20% landfill waste, then the entire load is compromised. That is, if overall our campus’s recycling load has too much improper/non-recyclable/landfill waste, none of the recycling will be recycled! Oh boy. Another layer of this is that our custodians are aware of this issue, so they too act as a check, and will just send a recycling bin’s load to the landfill pile if they deem it too full of landfill trash. As I’m sure you can tell, this is a pretty worrisome reality in the context of realizing how much landfill waste gets improperly disposed of. So, beyond making the sustainable option, i.e. correctly recycling, more appealing and easy, what do we do? This is a really hard question, and honestly it just comes down to awareness. The Ecoreps do what they can to educate and publicize sustainability knowledge on campus, but in reality, we are only about .05% of the Bates population. It is just as much up to you and everyone else to spread the word and make change, because truly we all have a lot more potential influence in the context of sustainability on campus than we may realize. I do have some great news to end on though: if you are interested, the Ecoreps have come up with a new recycling poster/directory that can be hung above any waste receptacle to help the process of sorting waste go a little smoother. You can email any Ecorep at all, or even write to me, to request a poster for your dorm. It sure sounds like Cheney could use it, but I bet there are more places on Campus that could too!

-Sustainable Abigail


*Content originally published in The Bates Student Newspaper*