Recycling at Eastern: Policy, Practice, Need

Scandal alert: “Did I just see the housekeeping staff throw the recyclables in with the rest of the trash? Does Eastern even recycle? Have I lived a lie for the past four years of my college career?!”

Well, yes and no. Officially, the school does have a pretty comprehensive recycling policy. As is noted on the website, “Eastern University participates in a single-stream recycling program. All plastic, glass bottles, aluminum, steel cans, and paper materials can be placed into one recycling container for collection.” Most students would recognize these green containers placed around campus in most of the highly trafficked locations. The housekeeping staff is responsible for maintaining these containers, collecting and depositing materials in the designated dumpsters when appropriate.

Sodexo also has a comprehensive recycling policy. They have attempted to measure their food waste by instituting a weighing program and have achieved significant improvements as a result. Other initiatives, such as food reuse and box recycling, are also in place.

But yes, you may have seen a member of the housekeeping staff toss the recyclables in with the rest of the garbage. The reason for this confusing reality is that the recycling containers often get contaminated with unrecyclable waste and therefore cannot be put in their proper place. While the virtuous housekeeper may remove a piece or two of the contaminated waste and salvage the rest of the load, if too much contamination is spotted, all the materials in the container are tossed in the garbage. The housekeeping staff does not have time to sort through all the school’s recycling and therefore can only do so much.

So, you, concerned citizen of Eastern University, may actually be the cause of this unfortunate scenario. To avoid having the recyclables thrown away, the simple solution is to avoid contaminating the recycling container. Place only the designated products in the recycling cans, steering clear of “food, plastic bags, food tainted items (used paper plates, paper towels, or napkins), polystyrene cups or plates, plastic toys or sporting goods, DVDs, foam egg cartons, or ice cream cartons.”

Despite the available recycling disposal containers placed around campus, one may ask, “Is this enough?” The Eastern student has likely seen the small green bins in their residence halls overflowing with bottles and cardboard. Similarly, the student has probably seen the amazing amount of trash that piles up on move-in/out days which probably contains much recyclable waste. Or further, one might ponder the accessibility of trash cans compared to recycling. A trash can exists in every classroom yet only one or two recycling containers are placed in an entire building. Surely one can recognize that more could be done.

One resident director suggested that trash and recycling containers be placed somewhere on each hall which federal work study employees could maintain. Budgets and housekeeping contracts may hinder the accessibility of placing more receptacles around campus, but these ideas seem a good place to start.

Do you care about environmental justice? It seems that here is a place of need. Do not wait for others to initiate the change, do what you can to help. As Gandhi famously remarked, “Be the change you want to see.” Much is done but more is needed: lead the way.

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