Recycling Program a victim of prioritization

By Tyler Davis

The formerly student-run Recycling Program will be seeing some staffing changes this year. Students will no longer be sorting recyclable materials, a task that will now be performed by the school’s custodial staff. The program was created by students and will still have student involvement, but it remains uncertain whether they will continue to have a say in how recycling is carried out

on campus.

Students started the recycling program in 1989 and began getting paid for their work in 1993. Since the start of the program, members have accomplished quite a bit, including the addition of electronics and

battery recycling as well as book

donation events.

In the past, the Recycling Program had as many as eight student workers. Now there will only be three focusing on sustainability in a more advisory and educational capacity.

Alicia Berg, vice president of Campus Environment, said she is uncomfortable with students handling trash. “It’s below their skill set,” she told The Chronicle on Aug. 27. While the sentiment that Columbia students deserve challenging work is appreciated, no task is “below” students if it is a task they are passionate about and have elected to perform. The achievements  of the program should be praised and not considered a lesser form of work.

During the 2010-2011 school year, Columbia’s diversion rate—the percentage of trash that does not get sent to a landfill—was 48 percent. The program’s annual recycling report listed a consistent diversion rate of 50 percent as one of its goals. To put that into perspective, Northeastern University, a member of the Princeton Review’s Green Honor Roll of environmentally conscious colleges, has a diversion rate of 42 percent. This is not just garbage, and should be a source of pride for the entire

student body.

The Recycling Program’s student workers were more than just trash collectors. They sorted garbage into various categories, such as compost, discarded technology, batteries, film and light bulbs. In order to recycle at the successful level the school has achieved, recyclable material had to be meticulously sorted. Students then allocated recyclables to multiple vendors, including a program that donates books to developing countries and literacy programs. Student workers also assisted with recycling events on campus. John Wawrzaszek, then the program’s recycling manager and now its sustainability manager, told The Chronicle on April 16, “[Recycling] needs a dedicated staff … You can’t just throw batteries and electronics and light bulbs into one bin and put it into a dumpster. All of that has to be separated [and] boxed.”

The Recycling Program has been a major success and something we should be proud of. It is hard to tell what these changes will mean in the years to come. We have the utmost faith in the school’s custodial staff, but we question why this program started by students is now being taken out of their hands. More importantly, if students will not be directly dealing with recycling, there must be student involvement to ensure that the school reaches the same benchmarks the Recycling Program has achieved in the past.