On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, the University of Massachusetts Eco-Rep Program stationed 63 of its members in dorm lobbies collecting alternate recyclables: items not suitable for the single-stream recycle bins, yet still reusable.
“Alternate recyclables are not as common as plastic or paper, so I don’t think a lot of people know about them,” said Eco-Rep Program Manager Chris Hewes. “I think generally people will walk by and say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you can (recycle) this kind of stuff.’”
Such items include non-alkaline batteries, toner cartridges, compact florescent lightbulbs, CDs and DVDs, clothes, power cables, books and electronics.
In total, Hewes estimated that the Eco-Reps collected a total of eight CRT monitors and TVs, about 50 empty toner cartridges, a large pile of books, about 25 pounds of clothing, a large box of mixed electronics and “a ton” of CDs, DVDs and batteries.
The students involved with the collecting of these alternate recyclables were all members of Environmental Science 297F, a hands-on two-credit class that performs at least one environmentally friendly act per month. The students competed in pairs with the goal of collecting as many alternate recyclables as possible.
There were a range of prizes for the winners, including gift certificates, compact florescent light bulbs and UMass apparel, but for Eco-Rep member sophomore Jeanette Schaible, the real joy in participating was making her own mark on the community.
“I really like making a difference and knowing how I’m impacting the environment,” Schaible, a nutrition and public health sciences double major, said.. “It’s nice to finally have a class that you can use in your actual life that’s not math or anything.”
However, Schaible was not having the best of luck. An hour and a half into her two-hour shift in Wheeler Hall, Schaible had only collected items from five people.
“A lot of people just pass by and they’ll say, ‘Oh I’ll just drop it off later,’ but usually don’t (come back),” she said.
For the most part, Schaible doesn’t believe a lot of students have the initiative to recycle consistently.
“I think the public doesn’t understand the importance of recycling in general because paper and bottles still aren’t recycled often, even though they’re so easy to recycle,” she said. “I guess more community awareness would be better but it’s hard when people don’t really care.”
In terms of spreading awareness to the community, the class— which meets four times per month— does one community-based activity per month. The other three classes meet in a classroom-like setting, where the students have discussions about readings and videos regarding environmental issues.
“I think the whole system could be more engaged with the community,” Schaible said. “We do one interactive piece per month, so I feel like the other three weeks we don’t really engage with the community that much. I think it would definitely help because we could show (community members) that it’s really not that hard to recycle.”
But it’s a bit more difficult to take care of the alternate recyclables, because unlike the single-stream recycling bins seen across campus — which take paper, plastic, aluminum and cardboard — there are no receptacles that are specifically for the alternates.
According to Hewes, aside from the bin outside the Student Union that collects toner cartridges, the only other place that will accept the alternates is the Office of Waste Management next to the UMass Police Department.
The OWM sends the materials to the Materials Recycling Facility in Springfield where the items are sorted and then shipped to contractors who can reuse the items. For example, non-alkaline batteries contain reusable metals, toner cartridges can be refurbished as well as refilled and CDs and DVDs can be melted down for materials that can be extracted and reused.
According to National Geographic, the chemicals in batteries can leak into soil, groundwater, lakes and streams and pose as a hazard for the environment. Hewes is keen on the idea of informing students that batteries and other uncommon recyclables can be put to better use, rather than thrown in landfills.
“We want to change the behavior and impact student awareness and behaviors on campus,” he said. “We want to tell them to not just throw this stuff in the trash. It can be recycled. You can take it to the Office of Waste Management or we can take it from you.”
If unwilling to take the trip to the OWM, Hewes suggests holding onto alternate recyclables until May, when the Eco-Rep Program holds its annual Sustainable Move-Out Campaign as students depart for summer vacation.
Taylor Snow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.