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EU recycling efforts: Too good to be true?

Eastern University is not shy about its commitment to environmental stewardship. According to the Fall/Winter edition of “Spirit Magazine,” the St. Davids campus recycled 2041 light bulbs, 27 tons of leaves and 146 tons of commingled items last year. However, there is a nagging rumor amongst Eastern students that undermines these and other achievements.

Allegedly, the contents of the green recycling bins, seen in residence hall lobbies and other common areas, are not actually recycled.

Jose Rivera, director of housekeeping for the main campus, has confirmed that this rumor has “some truth to it.” In an email, he explained that “recycling containers often get contaminated with non-recyclable items.” When this occurs, all of the contents, including the recyclable ones, must be disposed of in the regular trash.

This is not due to any ill intent or laziness on the part of the housekeeping staff. Instead, Rivera suggests that this problem is caused by those who use—or rather, misuse—the green bins.

“In our community we have many that care and recycle properly,” he notes. However, “there are a few who do not,and that affects the efforts of others.” If everyone disposes of their waste in the proper bins, then the housekeeping crew will make sure recyclables are recycled.

 Rivera also drew attention to a less apparent but equally problematic trend.

“The university has strategically placed biohazard containers throughout the entire campus,” Rivera said. These red containers are “for the sole purpose of disposing biohazard materials, such as items that have come into contact with blood.”

Eastern has commissioned a company to come and properly remove this particular form of trash, thus incurring an additional cost. Like the green recycling bins, these red containers are often used as regular trash cans, so the contents must be disposed of in the regular dumpsters.

Because Eastern pays an additional fee for biohazard disposal, the university is forced to, almost literally, throw away money when regular trash is placed in these red containers.

This problem occurs simply because, as Rivera says, “some people do not care, or are not aware of the purpose of these cans.”

This unfortunate practice is common in residence halls and other common areas, but it does not span the entire campus: the Dining Commons, Jammin’ Java, Eagle’s Nest and Breezeway are not nearly as affected.

Sodexo managers Steve Jacke and Mike Kenis estimate that 90-95% of the recyclable materials that the dining company produces are left uncontaminated. This means that, unlike the contents of the many green recycling bins on campus, Sodexo’s paper, plastic and glass are actually recycled.

“By volume, we actually recycle a lot more than we landfill,” Jacke said.

This is largely due to the efforts of Sodexo employees, who, according to Kenis, are “well instructed and diligent” when it comes to following recycling procedures.

Jacke and Kenis estimate that the various dining facilities produce at least half of the total volume of Eastern’s waste. So, despite the frequent contamination of recyclable materials in dorms and lounges, the majority of the refuse produced on campus is indeed disposed of properly.

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