Column: The case for recycling

After reading the long overdue and inspiring article, “Getting dirty for a cause (Feb. 3, p. 1),” it is nice to see that there are some students who think that recycling is worth more than a five cent return from your beer can. Coming from the hippie commie pinko city of San Francisco, I have always been appalled at the lack of respect and motivation to preserve nature and recycle out here. With less space to dump trash, you’d think that the center of the free world might take a leadership role in showing how to keep our most valuable asset to humanity, the Earth, intact. I mean we go to war to fight for freedom and democracy in the Middle East, but no one cares if species go extinct, if the one percent of the drinkable water in the world gets contaminated or if we poison ourselves with carbon dioxide because there aren’t enough trees to process all the air pollution.

Last spring – for my final paper in Journalism 111 – I wrote about the possibility of composting foodstuffs here at GW. Clearly for a campus that barely recycles, composting is a long shot. However, the results I got from this story literally made me want to start putting ribbons around the pathetic trees that are still left on this campus. Douglas Spengel, the manager of the Energy and Environmental Department within Facilities Management, said he didn’t even know what composting of everyday food scraps was. Tony Dillard, the head of Facilities Management, in charge of recycling for some of the dorms on campus, also pleaded ignorance to the topic.

Now, perhaps my California attitude of being knowledgeable in matters of the Earth should simmer down a bit. However, it is just hard for me to comprehend that the Bay Area, with a metropolis of five million people, can accomplish an all-inclusive system of composting for every home and business, when most people here don’t even know what the word means.

While GW does compost organic materials, such as trees, branches and roots, when doing landscape maintenance, I am asking for more. The students diving into dumpsters are asking for more. Composting foodstuffs (banana peels, napkins, apple cores, leftover food), which could significantly reduce the amount of trash and money spent on trash collection, should be at least researched by the head officials in charge of recycling at GW.

While the urban GW campus does not have space to create its own compost center, it can contract out to a company to take the compost to a plant to be aged. Sunset Scavengers, a private recycling company in San Francisco, began a revolutionary food and scrap compost collection for the city and businesses about five years ago. In San Francisco, the compost is collected at the same time as the garbage and other recyclables by NorCal Waste Systems Inc., but is separated and made into nutrient rich soil for farms. Robert Reed of NorCal Waste System said last year in my interview that if GW is willing to contract out to a composting company, he would be able to set that up for the D.C. area.

University records report that GW disposes of an average of 3,461 tons of trash each year. Of that about 923 tons are recyclables, or about 27 percent of the waste materials. The recycling materials are separated from the waste using a three-bin unit provided by the University. Yet 27 percent is still a very premature number and the University response to raising the bar on this issue remains clearly ignored.

The District of Columbia Environmental Law mandates in its “Mandatory Source Separation” document (D.C. Code  8-1007) that “All owners and occupants of commercial property are at a minimum required to separate from the regular trash the following: newspaper, clean and rinsed metal food and beverage cans and glass food and beverage containers.” Any building that offers waste management must therefore offer recycling.

Now, I’m not blind and just in my past two years here, living in HOVA and now Townhouse Row, I have yet to see any form of recycling bins in my living space. An initial fine for violating the D.C. Environmental Law is $1,000, according to the code. However, instead of just praying that the recycling meter maid doesn’t come by today, why doesn’t the University actually try to fix the recycling program and introduce composting? The time to care is now. The word is out. The opportunity has been offered. All we have to do is dive in.

-The writer is a sophomore majoring in journalism.

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