Columbia students wasting away

By Amanda Murphy

In an increasingly eco-conscious world, Columbia’s campus and curriculum are full of ways to promote being more earth-friendly. The college has created different opportunities for students to add to the sustainability mission. However, as much as the college contributes, more can be done by its core—the student population.

For the most part, the recycling numbers have greatly increased throughout the years, according to statistics generated by companies the college employs for recycling removal. Although the Recycling Program’s numbers are climbing, more can be done to help the process. According to John Wawrzaszek, manager of the Recycling Program, student involvement in the process could significantly help the efficiency.

“We would like them to be more conscious of what they are bringing on campus and if it can be recycled,”

Wawrzaszek said.

The Recycling Program recently released an annual report for the 2009–2010 academic year. The report is an overview of statistics and events, updating the college on the progress and regress of recycling for that year. The report serves as a guideline for the college, students and staff to see what areas can be improved.

“If students were more aware and held their school accountable, recycling would be better,” said Neal Baldyga, outreach coordinator for the Recycling Program.

The annual report is a way for students and faculty to see the effects of what the college does in terms of waste and recycling, Wawrzaszek said. In the last academic year, according to the report, the college nearly doubled the co-mingled recycling. The co-mingled, or mixed recycling, includes aluminum cans, plastic bottles and glass.

The amount of mixed recycling more than doubled in the 2009–2010 year. From 2009–2010, the college collected approximately 8.5 tons of mixed recycling compared with 4.1 tons in the 2008–2009.

Wawrzaszek attributes the drastic increase of mixed recycling to communicating through a newsletter, Twitter and its website,

“All of that adds to more awareness and raises the consciousness level,” he said. “A lot more of that happened last year than it had in the past.”

The amount of paper, or fiber, recycling decreased from 177 to 173 tons in the 2009–2010 academic year. Wawrzaszek attributes this to the fact that the college had made large department moves in 2008 and 2009. He said when the departments make moves, they clean out their offices of unneeded papers. This leads to a high volume of fiber being recycled.

The Recycling Program is more aggressive than other colleges in the area, such as the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology, said Isabel Rubinas, account manager at Recycling Services, the company that collects Columbia’s recycling. For example, Roosevelt University recycled approximately 9,500 lbs in both co-mingled and paper recycling.

In December 2010, Columbia recycled 20,173 lbs in just paper recycling for nine of its 22 campus buildings. Numbers generated by the company, which is the largest recycling service in Chicago, showed nine Columbia buildings saved 174 trees in December 2010. Those same buildings conserved 71,917 gallons of water and approximately 811 gallons of oil in that month, too.

Knowing what is recyclable can help make students more aware, Wawrzaszek said. The program has lists of objects that can be recycled on its website. Some of the atypical recyclable items fall in the “techno-trash” category, such as VHS tapes, DVDs, CDs and floppy disks.

According to Carlos Cardozo, sophomore photography major working with the Recycling Program, students are recycling products they should not.

“A lot of students think everything is recyclable,” Cardozo said.

He said another issue is students recycling containers with food or beverage left over. Cardozo added if the food or drink is spilled on other recyclable goods, it can result in all of the goods having to be thrown away rather than recycled. Rubinas stressed this issue as well.

“If contamination gets into recycling then everything turns into waste,” Rubinas said. “People have to understand you have to keep the recycling separate from the garbage.”

Senior music major Daniel Pizzoferrato, another worker for the Recycling Program, said students should take steps to be aware of what goes into which recycling bin and minimize what is brought onto campus in general.

Pizzoferrato said certain objects like disposable paper coffee cups from coffee shops and pizza boxes are not recyclable. Although they are paper, these items go through a certain process that does not allow them to be recycled. Pizzoferrato recommends students bring in their coffee mugs, thermoses or brew coffee at home.

“Recycling is trying to solve the problem,” he said. “But the solution is trying to use less disposable things.”

Staff and faculty have a better understanding of recycling’s importance because they are here more often and have college budgets to work with, Wawrzaszek said.

In the annual report, the program stressed being more eco-friendly is going to help the future of the planet and help Columbia save money.

Wawrzaszek emphasized students need to be more vocal with faculty who use a large amount of paper. He said students should recommend alternatives to faculty for printing coursework, such as putting readings online or e-mailing assignments. The student population should also take advantage of green options, such as eTextbooks, Baldyga said.

“It would be more beneficial [to the program] to get a bigger idea rolling around in the heads of the students,” Wawrzaszek said.

The Recycling Program is looking into different courses in the college that could apply an eco-friendly aspect to the curriculum. He said the college is working on a campus-wide sustainability plan that would look at all areas of the college and create different ways to contribute to being more efficiently eco-friendly.

According to Wawrzaszek, the sustainability plan would look at different aspects, including energy efficiency, travel, catering, communications and publicity. With these larger steps in mind, Wawrzaszek stresses the importance of recycling.

“You can’t talk about sustainability without talking about recycling,” he said.

Through different events, the program has tried to make students more aware of the positive effects of recycling, Baldyga said.

Last year, the Recycling Program worked with different organizations and departments to help spread the word to students. According to Baldyga, with gatherings such as the Eco Fair–an annual Earth Day event–the Recycling Program joined forces with local businesses and college departments to educate students on environmental issues and solutions.

On Feb. 16, the program will be stationed at the Wabash Campus Building, 623 S. Wabash Ave. It will do free screen printing on students’ T-shirts. The program will also sell T-shirts to print on gathered by the Salvation Army.

“It is a great way to show students you can do creative things with reusable products,” Baldyga said.

The program also tried to get students involved in more creative ways, such as rewarding students who were recycling.

Baldyga said members observed students passing by papers or other recyclable goods discarded on the ground without picking them up. He said the Recycling Program members would sit there for an hour and not see anyone pick it up and recycle it.

“We thought it would be a great social experiment to watch that,” he said. “It was disappointing and interesting to watch the student behavior.”

Wawrzaszek said knowing what the program does and how it works can enlighten students on the

environmental impact.

Some Columbia students have created art with recycled materials. Although these art projects are not affiliated with the Recycling Program, Warwzaszek said they are a big way students can influence one another.

Baldyga said it’s powerful when students create visually pleasing and environmentally friendly art.

“We are an art school, so it’s nice to have students thinking of things current in the culture,” Wawrzaszek said. “Students can be doing something along the lines of the reuse movement.”