Spoiling the whole bunch

Blue and green recycling bins dot the Geneseo campus, serving as a constant reminder to the community to think twice before disposing of their trash and recyclables.

The prominence of the bins may not be indicative of their actual use, however. According to Kirk Spangler, assistant director of Facilities Services and director of Custodial Services, a significant portion of all recyclables collected is thrown away because of contamination by materials not intended for the bins.

Spangler said he could not give a definitive percent of the recyclables that get thrown out, but estimated the figure is currently at less than one-third. He did say, however, that the amounts in previous years have been significantly higher.

"You don't see half as much contamination as you used to," he said. "I give credit to our students' awareness of the environment."

The custodial staff of Facilities Services is responsible for collecting, bagging and preparing the recycling - as well as the garbage - collected from the blue bins designated for plastic, paper, metal and glass. This refuse is then picked up by Campus Auxiliary Services. CAS is then responsible for sorting and transporting waste and recyclables to the Waste Management containers on the west side of campus.

The ability of the custodial staff to successfully prepare waste and recycling for CAS and, subsequently, Waste Management (the primary provider for waste and recycling services in North America), is largely dependent on the members of the Geneseo community.

"If somebody throws garbage into a recycling bin, the whole bin goes directly into the garbage because of that fact," said Roy Meissner, a south zone maintenance worker. "If you put garbage into a recycling bin, you're wasting the time and effort of those who try to recycle, myself included."

According to Spangler, custodians have improved at minimizing the number of recycling bags that are simply thrown out because of the presence of a small amount of garbage in the bag. If the recycling is contaminated beyond this point, however, Campus Auxiliary Services will have to remove the bag from the recycling stream.

"I think for the most part we are very successful as a university," Spangler said. "Could we be better? Sure we could. Any process can always be improved."

Junior Alicia Kowsky, president of the Geneseo Environmental Organization, advocates education and awareness on recycling issues in the Geneseo community in order to improve Geneseo's recycling efforts.

"If we need to simplify the recycling program or put up more signs right by the recycling bins so that people can better understand the program on campus, then we'll do it," Kowsky asserted. "This is a really important issue and hopefully we can work with the administration to improve student action and the success of our program."

In an effort to evaluate the success of the college's recycling and waste programs, Spangler requested a report from Waste Management, detailing the amount and use of materials collected from the campus.

According to the Waste Management report, filed Oct. 4 by Brent Hoover, the account retention manager of the Upstate New York market area, about 64 tons of glass, plastic and tin, 21 tons of mixed paper, and 27 tons of cardboard has been collected, year-to-date, from Geneseo's campus.

Paper and cardboard products are sorted by hand by Metro Waste Paper Recovery Inc., the leading collector, processor and marketer of recyclable materials in North America, and then sent to paper mills in Canada and the United States. All glass, tin and plastic materials are sorted by Metro Waste, which sends some materials (e.g. milk and detergent bottles) on to be reused, either to metal processing mills or various other locations.

Spangler is also the chair of the college's Environmental Impact and Sustainability Task Force, which is made up of professional staff, professors and students who determine ways that the school can improve its efforts in sustainability. According to Spangler, one of the committee's primary challenges is examining and evaluating the college's recycling practices.

In 2002, Geneseo was awarded the Governor's Award for Pollution Prevention in recognition of the campus's efforts to recycle hazardous and solid waste materials. Additionally, according to Spangler, the college seeks to comply with the laws established by the Environmental Protection Agency in various ways, including restricting the purchases of hazardous chemicals.