Recycling program encourages waste reduction on campus

More than 3,000 recycling bins have been placed around campus in an effort to reduce waste (Photo by Ricky Riccio).
More than 3,000 recycling bins have been placed around campus in an effort to reduce waste (Photo by Ricky Riccio).

For the past year, an experiment has been underway at Mason. Located in every dorm room across campus are now more than 3,000 recycling bins intended to encourage residents to reduce waste.

The initiative, spearheaded by the Office of Sustainability, was jointly funded by the Patriot Green Fund, the Auxiliary Enterprise Management Council, and a grant from the Coca-Cola/Keep America Beautiful Program.

Margaret Lo, the director of the Office of Sustainability, described the first year of the program as a success.

"The program has allowed Housing to reduced their waste by almost 25 percent and has saved $50,000," Lo said. "It’s significant because housing can use that money on other programs for the 6,000 residents on campus."

According to Lo, the program also instituted new procedures for recycling in an effort to increase efficiency while reducing waste.

"We made sure that there were enough trash pickups," Lo said. "Since Mason is charged for every pickup, we ensure that the trash is full before it is removed from the buildings."

According to the Office of Sustainability Program Innovation Coordinator Tyler Orton, the recycling process involves a multitude of steps and is more complicated than handling and removing trash.

After being removed from the various recycling bins around campus, the waste is brought to the recycling yard located to the east of the Commons. Paper is then sent to Georgetown Paper Stock where it is reconstituted into pulp to make new products. Other waste, including glass, plastic, and aluminum, is sent to Prince William County to be sorted by a materials recovery facility.

The program's success, according to Lo, comes from the resident's willingness to participate as well as the Office of Sustainability's ability to communicate with residents.

"Students care about these issues," Lo said. "They care about environmental impact, and as long as we continue to educate the students about the importance of recycling I think [the program] will continue to work."

Lo explained that the fulfillment of the program was not with out its difficulties.

"Making sure that everyone involved was on the same page and moving in the same direction was a challenge," Lo said. "It’s a story we tell often because it’s a good example of a successful collaboration among multiple departments."

The departments, which worked in unison with the Office of Sustainability, included Housing and Residence Life, University Life, Auxiliary Enterprises and Recycling and Waste Management. 

According to Lo, the Office of Sustainability plans to continue with various waste-cutting initiatives, including a program to conserve energy.

"We would like to see what we can do to save energy in Housing," Lo said. "Mason spends between 10-12 million dollars on energy a year, so there is a lot we can do there to reduce waste."

Lo believes that as long as the Office of Sustainability continues to develop projects that will benefit Mason, the office will continue to have the support of students and faculty.

"When you are doing something that is right for a larger purpose there is a good amount of people who care," Lo said. "This [recycling program] is only a small example of what we at Mason can do."

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