Imagine a world without waste. Everything used, produced, and consumed becomes useful again. There is no trash. Throwing something away is an unfamiliar concept, and the idea of new is fundamentally altered.
This year, DePauw’s office of Sustainability is challenging the campus to realize this vision. They have selected the theme of “Zer0 Waste” in an effort to raise awareness, and produce change in the way DePauw’s students think about and handle their waste.
An essential part of this vision of zero waste is the act of recycling. Outputs are turned back into inputs, creating a closed system of consumption. In order to achieve the level of recycling required for a zero waste community, DePauw’s recycling program will need to be entirely effective, comprehensive, and simple to use.
Unfortunately, DePauw’s recycling currently misses the mark in many aspects. There is hope, however, as there are a few minor changes that can launch our recycling program into the sphere of zero waste.
Firstly, recycling bins on campus are hard to find, and often in impractical locations. illogical or out of the way locations. On more than one occasion I have had to go on an impromptu scavenger hunt in an academic building just to recycle an empty bottle or a wrapper. In order for there to be zero waste, recycling needs to be engrained into the everyday actions of students. The process should be streamlined, and take as little effort and thought as it does to throw something away. Achieving zero waste is going to be impossible until I don’t have to walk halfway across Roy and look under a counter in order to recycle.
Secondly, the signs and available information about our recycling is contradictory, confusing, and often misleading. DePauw participates in a single stream system for recycling. This means that what bin you put your recycling in has absolutely no importance or impact on the process of it being recycled. All of the recycling is mixed together and resorted at the plant, so there is no need for students to distinguish between bins. The perpetuation of these misconceptions ultimately makes recycling seem more complicated and incontinent than it is, leading to fewer people recycling.
Finally, the size of the recycling bins on campus contributes to misconceptions of the fundamental nature of recycling. Often, the recycling bins are short and small. A majority of recycling bins, not just at DePauw, but nationally as well, are designed as the small and shallow bins. Meanwhile, the trashcans are large enough to fit several people inside them. Trashcans are normally tall enough to be seen from across the room. This disparity in size communicates that there should be less recycling than there is trash, and that recycling shouldn’t be as visible, and is therefore less important. The EPA claims that 70% of solid waste is recyclable. Therefore, recycling bins should dominate our waste management landscape, not trashcans.
In order to achieve the vision of “Zer0 Waste” in DePauw’s community the fundamental ways the recycling system is portrayed and handled need to be changed. DePauw needs a program that is easy to access and understand, and yet still reflects the fundamental nature of recycling.