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.
Who picks up your bins?
One big question when it comes to outdoor recycling bins is who is going to empty them?
I like aligning recycling programs to the alternatives. If you don’t recycle, who is going to be responsible for the alternative, whether that alternative is picking the stuff up as trash, or cleaning it up as litter? If you aren’t responsible for the alternative, there is little consequence to missing a recycling pickup. However, if missing a recycling pickup means that you will still have to pick up the same stuff as trash, or that you will have to clean up the litter when stuff spills out of the overflowing bin, you have more of an incentive to keep up with the recycling collection. Also, if the grounds crew is already emptying the outdoor trash bins, because they see where the biggest trash and litter problems occur, they can often best figure out where to site recycling bins to maximize their effectiveness. From that standpoint, I like having the collection of outdoor trash and recycling bins fall under the grounds crew.
If you are in a climate where snow is a reality, another advantage to having the grounds crew responsible for collecting recyclables (and trash) from outdoor locations is that they are also the ones doing the snow removal. As a result, they can adjust the collection schedule as needed to accommodate snow removal and vice versa. When those operations are managed by separate departments, there are too many opportunities for miscommunication, and the inefficiencies and conflicts that result from such miscommunications.
Another alternative is to have student employees or a student group responsible for the recycling collection. There are some advantages to this model. Sometimes student workers are sufficiently more passionate about recycling that it helps to ensure that collections get done. Sometimes youthful legs, youthful backs, and the knowledge that they are only doing this for a couple of years, gives student collectors a level of energy and efficiency that you don’t get from full time staff. And sometimes, the combination of those factors can open up some high-effort, low-capital collection options like bicycle-based collection. If you get student workers who also have an academic or career interest in recycling, student workers may notice opportunities for improvement that groundsworkers might miss.
A difficulty of doing student-based collections is consistency. The student academic calendar is full of seasonal fluctuations, a waxing and waning of time spent preparing for papers and exams, breaks and vacations. The problem is that bins need to be emptied consistently. Even if the volume of stuff in the bins waxes and wanes with that same academic schedule, you need a consistent collection to avoid any odor or pest issues. If you do plan to have student-based collections, you need to have a sufficient backup to cover these activities during times when student labor is less available.
Another option for collections is a third party. There may be a social service agency in your region that provides basic job training, or opportunities for folks with disabilities, or provides opportunities for folks recovering from addiction. In some cases the agency would provide such services at a heavily discounted rate just to have viable job sites for their program (if you are in a bottle bill state, I have seen some agencies provide such services in exchange just for the ability to keep the deposit-container revenues). Such partnerships may also provide positive public relations or town-gown benefits. However, if you do look at such services, remember that you are looking at a potential partnership. What else will such services entail? Are their members able to do the services that you need? Are there potential problems if they interact with students? For example, I had a problem with a couple members of an agency I once worked with that spent their lunch break sitting by the Dining Commons whistling and cat-calling at all the college girls that walked by. I have had other instances in which a group had members who were using drugs and alcohol on the job site. Make sure you know your partner. How do they screen potential members to try to avoid such problems? How will such problems be addressed when they occur? Is there other equipment that you have to provide to them? If so how does that affect your risk and liability? Those are all factors to consider before entering such a partnership.
If you are going to do outdoor recycling collections, who is doing the pickups for you?