Dustin Fox, Special to the Chanticleer
Recycling is one of the most popular ways for people to feel they are having a positive impact on the environment. Many cities offer curbside pickup of plastics, papers and other materials that can be processed and reused by recycling plants.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management set forth a goal for the state to recycle 25% of its waste. In 2016, only 8.28% was recycled. Despite initiatives geared towards increasing that percentage, many places have seen little improvement.
In February 2016, Jacksonville State University began its own recycling program, which began with the installment of six recycling bins on campus.
The program was funded by a grant provided by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management through the Calhoun County Extension Office. The nearly $40,000 grant went to fund the six bins – which themselves are made from recycled milk cartons – and a utility trailer used to store collected recyclables. The trailer is then transported once or twice a month to the Calhoun County Recycling Center, depending on how quickly it fills up.
Once it is dropped off, the material collected on JSU’s campus is added to the nearly 362 tons of recyclables collected throughout the county each year. 362 tons is a massive amount, and saving that much from winding up in landfills has significant benefits.
However, when compared to the 102,500 tons of trash that is still tossed in a landfill in the county, the amount of recycling shows signs of needed improvement.
Calhoun County offers curbside recycling pickup alongside trash services, which gives residents the opportunity to put less of their waste in landfills. On JSU’s campus, which is populated by more than 8,500 students, recycling is limited to only six bins.
Those bins, which are located in the Theron Montgomery Building, Houston Cole Library, Bibb Graves, Martin, Brewer and Meehan Halls are only tiny blips on a map that covers 318 acres with 53 buildings, many of which are multi-story and have many entrances.
In the library, the recycling bin sits next to a trash can in Jazzman’s Cafe on the first floor. For students coming into the library from the rear parking lot, the green bin situated next to the nondescript trash can just inside the entrance is hard to miss. But for those who enter the library through the two entrances on the front, the bin goes unnoticed. Additionally, the library consists of 12 floors. For a student who finishes a drink in a plastic bottle anywhere in the library besides the café on the first floor, recycling that bottle would require a conscious choice to take it all the way to the bin, passing numerous trash cans on each floor.
Even for students passionate about recycling, making a special trip to a central location in a building is sometimes impractical. Abbie Patterson, who studies political science at JSU, said that she sometimes tosses a bottle in the trash between classes on the upper floors of Brewer Hall because there is not enough time to take it all the way to the first-floor lobby, where the bin is located.
Patterson does this despite considering herself very pro-recycling. When asked how important recycling is, she replied, “On a scale of one to 10? 10.”
While in Brewer hall twice a week, Patterson uses the recycling bin as much as possible, depositing empty bottles on her way to class and index cards she has used to study for a test on the way out. She makes it a point to go further than that, though. Patterson lives in an apartment complex on campus that does not offer recycling pick-up, so she separates her recyclables into a box that she brings to drop off in the on-campus bins once or twice a month. She said she does not think many students would go through that much trouble to recycle waste.
Courtney Lawrence, a social work student at the university, said she actively recycles at her off-campus home in Jacksonville because she has curbside pickup. It’s important to take care of the earth and keep as much waste out of landfills as possible, she said, but added that convenience is a big factor in recycling.
“Unfortunately, without the convenience of city pickup, I don’t believe I would use the bins [on campus] often,” Lawrence said.
Prior to 2016, students on campus had virtually no access to recycling. The installation of the six bins on campus were a starting point, though. The plan for JSU began through the Calhoun County Extension Office and the E.A.R.T.H. Club on campus. The bins were placed around campus and monitored for the first year.
“The data for the first year was reported to the Department of Environmental Management, but nothing has been recorded since then,” said Heather Mulvehill, an agent at the Calhoun County Extension Office.
That data was collected by the Capital Planning and Facilities department on campus. After being reported to the Extension Office and ADEM for the first year, the program became a routine part of custodial services at JSU.
Keisha Gresham at the Calhoun County Recycling Center said the recycling brought to the center from the university is not weighed, but she estimates that each trailer weighs seven or eight tons. Most of that weight comes from paper products, which she said greatly outweighs plastics.
The Calhoun County Extension Office no longer has the data collected during the pilot year of the program, which included records of how frequently the bins on campus were filled and how involved the student body was with the program.
The Capital Planning and Facilities department did not respond to a request for the information from the pilot year. Still, the recycling bins on campus are emptied on a regular basis, and Gresham says the Recycling Center picks up the collection trailer once or twice a month.
The small number of available recycling bins and frequency of pickup do indicate, however, that the program at JSU does not meet the state recycling goal of 25%. With 48 other buildings and countless other places to install recycling bins, though, JSU has the potential to make recycling easier for students and faculty.
“I believe that students would be more aware of recycling and more likely to use the bins if they are convenient,” Lawrence said.
Patterson echoed that sentiment, saying more students, including herself, would recycle more if bins were installed in more buildings and on multiple floors.
After all, the issue of recycling weighs heavy on a list of importance for some students at JSU and the ADEM. For now, though, the weight of what’s actually recycled on campus doesn’t seem to match that scale.
*Dustin Fox graduated from Jacksonville State University in December 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in communications.*