Last semester, the Student Volunteer Bureau held a gift-wrapping event for students to wrap gifts bought for families in need, stacking discarded cardboard wrapping paper tubes high. The cardboard was pushed into various trash bins, scattered on the floor of the science atrium and otherwise discarded; none of it was put in a recycling bin.
The Science Center has several small bins for recycling, placed in hallways and around corners on each floor. However, they are often filled with non-recyclable trash, gum, cans and bottles that don’t belong in the paper bin.
When I started to collect the rolls to recycle, I asked a nearby student if there was a larger bin somewhere; the small ones couldn’t hold all of the cardboard.
She told me a common rumor that has circulated on campus: It wasn’t worth the trouble because Albion College doesn’t recycle.
Albion College is considered one of the 455 “Green Colleges” of 2023 by the Princeton Review, where sustainability is rated on a scale of 60-99 based on several criteria. One of which rates the sustainability practices of the school itself. Albion College has a rating of 84/99, a relatively good standing, earning the title of a “green school.”
In addition, Albion College’s website is clear in expressing devotion to recycling:
“Albion College Facilities Operations works in conjunction with the Whitehouse Nature Center to support minimizing our trash by encouraging recycling,” said the website.
So, where is the idea that Albion College doesn’t recycle coming from?
Tanya Jagdish, sustainability consultant and ’22 alum, said the confusion stems from problems in recent years with recycling accessibility.
“I think a lot of students were just, in general, confused. A lot of people thought they were all going to the same place,” Jagdish said. “We did have recycling, but it was only in specific areas like the library and the Science Center.”
They said that since Albion’s 2020 Fiftieth Earth Day celebration, the college has improved recycling accessibility by placing more recycling bins throughout campus, as well as improving communication about how to properly recycle.
Albion College’s trash and recycling are handled by Granger Waste Services in a single-stream system, where recycling doesn’t need to be sorted into plastics and paper. The trash and recycling are picked up on a staggered schedule, with recycling on Mondays and trash on Wednesdays.
The catch, however, is that Granger doesn’t always pick up the recycling.
Director of Grounds John Hibbs says that the reason for recycling being left behind is contamination. When it comes to the waste being put in the recycling bins, oftentimes items with food or sanitary waste are put in recycling containers, which contaminates the whole bin, preventing pickup.
“Pizza boxes are the number one culprit in terms of contamination, and Granger won’t take that,” Hibbs said.
He said that the grounds department has to choose between the expense of having his own staff manually sort the recycling or having it picked up as trash, which he avoids whenever possible.
He sees a lack of information as a large part of the problem. Many students and faculty, Hibbs said, simply don’t know what can and can’t be recycled.
Hibbs said that managing contaminated recycling bins is probably his “biggest expense when it comes to recycling.”
Energy and Systems Manager Jacob Frieda, a proponent of sustainability through technology, also said that much of the problem happens before the recycling is in the bin. He said informative signs explaining the correct way to recycle are taken down or mistreated.
“We have asked in the past that students try to recycle in a certain way, but typically people just don’t follow it,” Frieda said.
This collective problem of participation in recycling and waste management is the missing key, Hibbs says.
“If we can get student involvement, we can elevate ourselves beyond where we’re at right now,” Hibbs said. “It takes a whole campus.”
Improving recycling is just one of the college’s hopes for a more sustainable campus. Another of Frieda’s most recent projects has been installing 23 electric heat pumps at the Burns Street apartments, relying less on natural gas and implementing cooling in addition to heating.
Furthermore, replacing and unifying the lights on campus to be motion triggered, adjustable to ambient sunlight and remote-controlled to save on copper wiring is another of Frieda’s ongoing projects, he said.
“We’re going to try to do as much as we possibly can,” Frieda said.
In terms of waste management, Hibbs says that one course of action for overall sustainability would be a composting program.
“In recent years we just have not had one, but it would be a huge thing for us on campus,” Hibbs said. “We have so much food waste on campus that really is unnecessary.”
For now, the grounds department hopes to provide as many opportunities for recycling as possible. They recycle most cardboard on campus, collect used oil from facilities vehicles to be recycled for heat, and are even developing a bad battery-drop off point, Hibbs said.
The efforts expended by the grounds department in the sake of recycling are broad and encouraging, though the problem still remains that student awareness could be improved.
So remember: Save your papers and plastics from the garbage, and your pizza boxes from the recycling.