Sorting out Quinnipiac’s recycling crisis

By on April 15, 2004

Recycling has long been a challenge in the United States. To get more of a perspective on it, think about how much paper individuals throw out per year. When all this paper is accumulated, there would be enough to build a wall 12 feet high stretching from Los Angeles to New York City.

Officials in Connecticut realized this problem and came up with a solution: The Mandatory Recycling Act, which came into effect on January 1, 1991. This act applies to businesses, homes, institutions and government agencies. The act mandates that both public and private schools are required to recycle items, such as newspapers, cardboard, cans and white office paper, to name a few.

Due to its status as an institution, Quinnipiac University is required by law to set up a recycling program that enables students to recycle at school just as they do at home.

Manny Carreiro, vice president and dean of students, said that Quinnipiac was one of the first schools to start a recycling program and did so six months before the law mandated it.

“I would classify us as having a program that people are minimally committed too,” he said.

According to the University website, Quinnipiac is broken down into two areas when it comes to recycling – academic and residential. There are roughly 115 “classroom” areas set up throughout the University to recycle, according to Keith Woodward, associate director of facilities. In these academic buildings, every classroom has recycling bins for newspapers and magazines, and white paper, including Sherman Avenue buildings and every office on campus. These bins are also located in the hallways or foyers. The Student Center and Dining Hall also contain bins for recycling cans and bottles.

The procedure for recycling in the Residence Halls varies from building to building.T For off-campus housing, the town provides the recycling bins.

As time permits, the Town of Hamden does checks with local institutions to ensure they are complying with the Mandatory Recycling Act. In November 2002, Stephen Marsh, solid waste and recycling consultant for the Town of Hamden, and recycling commission members, met with the Facilities Department and they took a tour of the dorms.

During this visit, they reportedly noticed that the containers were placed in “not so convenient” places, for example, the bathrooms, he said. They also knocked on student’s doors and asked whether or not they recycled and they received negative responses.

As a follow-up, Marsh said he visited the campus early in the day on March 10, 2003, and recorded some observations about trash (and recycling) being put outside the buildings by the cleaning crew. “In my own visit,” Marsh said, “and in the dorms there was a lot of recyclables in the trash and dumpsters.”

As of now, and keeping in mind his observations from his visits, Marsh says his summary is that Quinnipiac has the infrastructure to make changes, but above all, it comes down to the students. The state requires everyone to recycle, but the business and institution regulations are weak.

Instead of calling the Department of Environmental Protection, Marsh said he offered suggestions to the University to upgrade the recycling program. He did this in order to keep a civil union between the University and the Town of Hamden.

“[Calling the DEP] is like setting off the atomic bomb,” he said. “I wanted to avoid that and keep things on a cooperative level.”

Marsh said he tried to institute a “carrot and stick” approach to be considered to increase participation in the dorms, rewarding high recycling participation dorms with a party or other benefit, and somehow penalizing dorms where recycling was poor. In a letter to Derek Zuckerman, assistant director of Residential Life, on May 29, 2003, Marsh wrote that the only action agreed upon from the spring meeting was that Woodward would contact Residential Life and suggest that some sort of educational effort be made in the beginning of the spring semester. Zuckerman forwarded the letter to Woodward, who deals with such facility matters.

“The end result is that it’s not happening very well,” he said. “I freely admit that it’s hard to get college students to recycle, however, if [Facilities] took some of my suggestions they would be in a better spot. We have to find where the garbage comes from and things might be better.”

Woodward said that Quinnipiac is doing it’s best when it comes to recycling.

“Could we be better? Sure. We aren’t perfect. But I think we are working very hard to keep recycling in the forefront of our student’s minds,” Woodward said. “When they first move back in to the residence halls, we have a recycling brochure on their bed, so it is one of the first things they see. We sponsor the Orientation bags with the recycling logo and have information passed out at Orientation, so even before they attend one day of class, they are aware that we take recycling seriously.”

Mary Lesser, an adjunct professor of sociology and a member of the recycling commission, said the walk-through was a long time ago so she would be reluctant to comment at this point on the University’s current status. However, during the tours in 2002, she said she found that the recycling bins were not used for recycling. In walking through two dorms, names unknown, Lesser said the bins in the bathrooms were not used for recyclables, but for trash instead.

“It’s all a question of awareness and follow through,” she said. “The faculty in my building, College of Liberal Arts I, is better. But what happens when it leaves our building we don’t know.”

Lesser says that there are plenty of suggestions in increasing compliance with the recycling act.

“Students have been used to recycling at home and schools prior to coming here and they are educated when they come to Quinnipiac,” she said. “It would have to be a concerted effort for education between Residence Assistants, Residential Life and Facilities in reinforcing and promoting recycling.”

And according to Woodward, they do.

“We have, and will continue to do so. We spoke to 70 or so RAs in August during their summer training. We have, in conjunction with our trash hauler, put on educational meetings for our academic and residential life facilities staff, we are constantly working to have better communication and signage,” he said. “I think we are doing a great job getting the message out.”

Yet, Marsh said that state recommends the University get more containers for recyclables. Technically, the University could be fined if found not in compliance with the act.

As of now, the University cannot be fined, but if Marsh has his way, the regulation council must revise the current law and Quinnipiac University will have to step up and adhere to the recycling code of Hamden.


About Kellie Gleeson