Does CMC Recycle?

Except for the occasional moment in which we see an employee emptying a trash bin, the fate of trash and recycling at Claremont McKenna is largely a mystery. Although employees appear to make trash and recycling decisions at random, there are policies in place regulating disposal.  Brian Worley, Director of Facilities and Campus Services, primarily manages collection. Brian oversees the data regarding the amount of waste and recyclables that is dealt with by the custodians and housekeepers at CMC. An important aspect of his job is judging the data and attempting to find ways to successfully increase the recycling at the college and decrease the amount of trash. By collaborating with Students Promoting Environmental Action and Responsibility (SPEAR), ideas have been implemented that could foster more awareness in the student body in regards to the amount trash we create. As statistics show, much of the trash going into the dumpsters is in fact recyclable.

The bins are visibly different in color, shape and demarcation. To make the obvious even more obvious, SPEAR has tagged the bins, specifying what exactly goes into each bin.

However, the efforts do not seem to be enough, as the statistics prove that there is still so much recyclable material being thrown in with the trash. According to The Full Waste Report 2010, the data collection that Brian Worley examines, “In the waste assortment, 37.8% of all material found in the regular dumpsters was recyclable and 7.2% of all material found in the recycling dumpsters was non-recyclable.”

Yet how this is possible with the bins so obviously marked?

A major problem is the issue of contamination. A lot of the recycling bins end up containing some form of contamination; food waste, wrappers, tissues and other non-recyclable materials. As a result, these bins, despite having many recyclables are added into the trash dumpsters.

The Facilities Office has a strict policy that prohibits custodians and other workers from reaching into to a trash bin or recycling bin to sort through it. Brian Worley explains that he has neither the labor force nor resources to sort through the bins. There are also liability concerns in regards to sorting, as there are dangers such as cut glass and other hazardous materials.

Unfortunately, this contamination leads to the school throwing out many recyclable materials. This may have inspired the false rumor that CMC custodians and housekeepers simply combines the trash and recycling bins. As the Full Waste Report 2010 explains, “the custodians adhere to the housekeeping policy that states that the housekeepers cannot reach into a bin to sort trash. For the recycling process, this means that if even one item of contamination is present in the recycling bin, the housekeepers must treat the entire bin as trash.” The report goes on to say, “It was noted that in 23 out of 53 instance the recycling bins were combined with the regular trash due to the contamination in the recycling bin.”

Overall, the report conveys the assumption that people generally know what is recyclable and what is not. However, in many cases, “a single tissue or banana peel contaminates the entire bin.”

The report included an outline of potential solutions, which included putting flyers above the blue recycling bins regarding food wastes, explaining that it is not a compost bin. Larger signs will be put behind the bins in hopes of gathering the attention of students, faculty and staff just before they discard.

Brain Worley explained that these things should help reduce the 44% of all recycling bins from being combined with trash, but the greatest hurdle is student consciousness. Students have to pay more attention and place a greater importance on differentiating what article of waste goes where.  Education can only get us so far, but campus recycling will only really increase when students pay attention and prioritize recycling.