The University has made a very public push to become more eco-friendly over the past year, but establishing a thriving recycling program remains a largely unfinished project.
GW joined more than 500 universities and colleges in January by participating in Recyclemania, a nationwide recycling contest sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency. One of the program’s main goals is to raise recycling awareness on college campuses, but statistics provided by the GW Housing Web site and green leaders on campus suggest that little improvement has been made in this area since last year.
Pounds of recycling per person, for example, increased slightly over 2008 totals in four of the six weeks recorded this semester – but in the other two weeks, that number has been much lower than last year. Recycling rates, a measure of how much of total waste is recycled in an area, have been worse than last year for much of the semester. GW finished in the bottom half of its division last year in Recyclemania with an average recycling rate of 20 percent, but rates have fallen below 15 percent twice this year.
The problem lies in getting students the information they need, said Nancy Giammatteo, director of environmental planning.
“It’s all about information,” she said. “The more information people have . and the easier we make it, color coding and such, it’ll eventually sink in.”
Giammatteo said her office reworked the University’s recycling program over last summer and met with house proctors to make sure environmental information was reaching students. But in some cases simply getting students to put in the extra effort to recycle has been difficult, said Jordan Phillips, director of Revolution Green, a living and learning cohort that has made significant strides to lower their carbon footprint this year.
“In Thurston, you’ve got to go all around the hall and dump your stuff in there and it’s much easier to just throw your stuff in the trash,” he said.
As a way to combat that problem, Phillips suggested putting recycling bins not just in residence hall trash rooms, but in dorm rooms as well – something Sustainability Project assistant Casey Pierzchala is considering.
Pierzchala, who is currently working to develop the University’s recycling program for next year, said GW might institute a program where unused recycling bins can be loaned out to students for use in their rooms, though the idea has not yet been approved.
Problems occur when regular trash is combined with a batch of recycling.
“One single piece of trash won’t of course [cause problems], but if housekeeping sees your entire pizza or lunch or just a bunch of trash in general, then all the recycling will go into the trash,” Pierzchala said.
Ensuring that does not happen is part of the education campaign GW plans to develop this semester and in coming years, Giammatteo said.
“It’s a process,” Giammatteo said. “I can’t say it’s complete, but it is a process we started intensely this year and hopefully over the year it will catch on.”