Outdoor living. No I’m not talking about the special section of your local hardware store. I’m talking about the outdoor portion of campus life. Every campus sees at least some of the school year spent outside, whether you are in a warmer climate where outdoor activities happen year-round, or in a colder climate where you look forward to those few weeks of spring in which your breath doesn’t liquefy the moment it leaves your body and you can walk barefoot across the main quad without getting frostbite.
So what about recycling? I’m not myopic enough to suggest that anyone is actively thinking “woo hoo, the warm weather is here, let’s go outside and recycle.” However, I would suggest that enough of the outdoor activities include some sort of beverage containers that recycling is a necessary side car to other outdoor activities. There are a lot of little things that make up a successful outdoor recycling program. To give them all their just due, I am going to address outdoor recycling as a series of daily mini-posts.
I might sound like a broken record about this, but if you want an effective recycling program, one of the most important facets is parallel access. You need the same system for recycling that you have for trash. The bins have to be co-located together but visibly different enough that you can easily identify which bin is for which material. If you have a system in which it is more convenient for someone to throw something into the trash, too many people are going to discard recyclables into the trash too often. You are also going to need to spend significantly more of your educational budget and sorting/processing budget (whether you do the sorting yourself or it is done by someone else after your stuff is collected and the sorting cost is deducted from any revenues you would get for your materials) just to overcome the limitations of your logistics.
Conversely, if you have recycling bins without trash bins, too many people will dump trash into those recycling bins too often, contaminating those bins and causing recyclables to get discarded as trash.
One of the highest levels of trash that I ever had from an outdoor event was from a large public event on campus that was set up as a “zero waste” event. Because the organizers planned on it being a “zero waste” event, they never put out trash cans. No parallel access. As a result, all the disposables (and there were a lot that came both from event vendors and from folks coming to the event from elsewhere on campus who brought disposables with them) ended up contaminating the recycling and composting bins so thoroughly that almost everything was discarded as trash after the event was over. The event ended up being far closer to zero recycling & composting than zero waste. Even if your goal is to strive for zero, you need parallel access and a place to put the remaining residual trash so that it doesn’t wind up contaminating your recycling or compost bins.
Where have you placed your outdoor trash and recycling bins? Are they configured in a way that is maximizing your outdoor recycling effort?