Recycling Program salvages 178.5 tons of waste

By Heather Scroering

While the college has referred to the Recycling Program in its sustainability plan as “arguably the most robust sustainability-related program at Columbia,” the 10-person operation has been recommended for reorganization since the beginning of the prioritization process.

Though the program faces possible staff cuts and decreased funding, the student-operated organization recycled approximately 48 percent of waste on campus—or 404,067 pounds—during the 2010–2011 academic year, according to the program’s annual report.

“[Recycling] needs a dedicated staff,” said John Wawrzaszek, recycling manager of Facilities and Operations. “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.”

According to the report, the vast majority of the recycled waste was paper, approximating 343,945 pounds of the total. The second largest category included in the total was computers at 24,386 pounds.

The college’s total garbage waste was 839,115 pounds, the report said. While the college did recycle 48 percent of waste, the highest total in the last five years, the total amount of paper is down from previous years. The program recycled five more tons of paper in 2008–2009 with 177 tons, compared to 173 tons in 2009–2010, according to the document.

Not included in the diversions was recycled construction waste from building on campus. According to Wawrzaszek, the city requires that 50 percent or more of construction waste, such as brick and concrete, be reused. While the Recycling Program did not recycle the waste, haulers recycled approximately 83 percent of it, or 199 of 239 tons.

The program also recycled 6.5 tons of mixed materials, down by two tons from the previous year, as it recycled 8.5 tons in 2009–2010.

Wawrzaszek gave two reasons for the decrease: waste hauling companies that calculate waste by month and waste minimization.

Reports from hauling companies estimate both the garbage and recycled waste using approximation formulas based on national averages, Wawrzaszek said.

He added that the college has changed companies during the years, and each company likely has a different way of calculating.

“I would love if we were able to weigh our materials, but we don’t have staff for that,” Wawrzaszek said. “It’s a lot of guess work, and we just kind of have to rely on whatever we’ve been given from the companies who take on the material.”

He also believes the college has been more mindful of sustainability and is producing less trash.

Though the program recycled more waste last year than ever before, Wawrzaszek is concerned that the percentage will decrease because of the prioritization process.

Vice President of Campus Environment Alicia Berg slated the program for “restructure/reorganize/consolidate” in her prioritization recommendations and suggested that housekeeping integrate recycling paper and mixed materials.

“That’s a lot of extra material,” Wawrzaszek said. “For some of the cleaners, they’re not just picking up garbage. They’re wiping down tables and making sure the bathrooms are clean. Paper is heavy, cardboard has to be broken down. Those are things that are going to be put on someone else’s plate if this is [implemented].”

If the recommendation is enacted, Wawrzaszek said he is unsure how he will keep track of the waste housekeeping recycles since the Recycling Program will no longer be managing the task.

The document also stated that the proposed change would most likely include staff cuts.

Wawrzaszek, a 2003 graduate of Columbia’s Radio Department, said the Recycling Program is completely student-centered with only eight student workers and alumnus Neale Baldyga as the Recycling Outreach coordinator. Reductions could result in the staff being cut in half.

Wawrzaszek added that his staff was already cut down from 12 when the budgets came out in 2010. He is worried that cutting staff will be a disservice to students who live off of their student worker wage.

Wawrzaszek said he does not believe the Recycling Program was fairly represented in the prioritization process but declined to comment further.

Donyiel Crocker, assistant to the associate vice president of Facilities and Construction and a Support & Operations team member, said she believes cutting down the collection duties of the students working for the Recycling Program will free up time for them to plan more ways the college can practice sustainability.

“We were looking at more efficient ways to do things,” Crocker said. “The students are doing great work, but to be honest they could be doing even greater work, working with something more than just collecting and actually looking into more ways for us to be sustainable.”

However, none of the recommendations for the Recycling Program suggest plans other than cuts and reductions.

The Recycling Program started a “Green Seal Approved” initiative in spring 2011 for events on campus to promote mindfulness of waste minimization, according to the annual report.

In order for an event to qualify, it must meet a list of “green” criteria in three areas: catering, promotion and education.

Guidelines in catering include using reusable dishes and compostable foods. For promotions, event planners can print less marketing material, use recycled paper and take posters to a recycling bin after the event.

Wawrzaszek said he hopes to include recycling initiatives occurring within other departments in future annual reports, such as when departments make efforts to reduce paper use.

“I would love if every other department that does specific recycling things would let us know because we can put it in our report,” he said. “[If] it’s getting recycled, I’d like to report that.”

To view the full Recycling Program annual report, visit