GEO, Facilities respond to recycling contamination issues

Facilities Services removed the majority of the recycling bins in Milne Library due to cross-contamination between Oct. 8–Oct. 14. Members of Geneseo Environmental Organization are now working alongside the Office of Sustainability to educate the campus on proper recycling in an attempt to get the bins replaced. GEO began tabling in Milne on Oct. 26 and will continue to do so through Friday Nov. 6. The table includes information regarding correct recycling methods and there is also a short survey that students can take online.

“Basically, we want to find out how everyone else thinks we could help the campus recycle better,” GEO member sophomore Samantha Martin said. “So we want people’s feedback—so why do you think people don’t recycle? How do you think we could help recycling happen better and more often?”

According to Geneseo’s website, Geneseo has recycling guidelines in place that apply to items including paper and plastic as well as computers and other electronics. These guidelines are not always followed, however.

Coordinator of Residential Education and Co-Chair of the Sustainability Commission Meg Reitz expressed her belief that this is a campus-wide problem—particularly in residence halls like Jones Hall where there is a lack of recycling bins.

“My guess is that in a lot of the residence halls—at some point in the past few years—facilities got annoyed that the [recycling bins] were being contaminated continuously and thought, ‘Well, never mind. We’ll just take them out … and we can count it all as trash and not have to worry about it,’” Reitz said. “And I know that in lots of dorm rooms there is just a recycling bin and no trash can and people just throw everything in there.”

According to Head Custodial Supervisor of Academic Buildings Laura Canfield, however, Milne is the main problem with the vast majority of bins being contaminated “on a daily basis.” This comes largely with food and drink from Books & Bytes.

“In Milne specifically, it happened because that was where we were having our main issues with trash being mixed in with the recycling stream,” Canfield said. “A lot of times, we would have coffee and sodas and food trash mixed in with our paper and plastics. For a while, our custodians were trying to salvage what they could but when half the bag is contaminated with sticky liquid, it was fruitless to continue to use our time to do that.”

GEO president senior Julia Mizutani has spearheaded her organization’s involvement in campus recycling initiatives.

“Once we figured out that issue, that’s when we talked to the library and talked to facilities about how to ameliorate the situation,” Mizutani said. “Because clearly just taking away recycling bins isn’t going to make recycling better—or possible.”

Interns at the Office of Sustainability have also been trying to educate students on proper recycling techniques by making signs illustrating which objects can be recycled and how.

“It would be nice if things were structured better where these things were already happening fluidly and Facilities was taking care of this … but at the same time, it is not their responsibility to check on students and make sure they are recycling,” Mizutani said. “That’s not their job; their job is just to pick it up.”

According to Canfield, “Facilities will remove anything that’s put in the appropriate recycling container.”

Though the “bottom line” for Mizutani and GEO is getting students and faculty to place recyclables and trash in their respective bins, composite materials as well as the presence of food can complicate this.

“People are putting paper plates and paper cups in the paper recycling, which sounds right—that sounds intuitive,” Mizutani said. “But actually, we’re trying to help people understand that those are contaminated—first of all—with food, but second, paper plates and paper cups have a waxy layer on top and those can’t be separated from the paper.”

“We found out, actually, that the people who really want to recycle are kind of the problem because they’re trying to recycle everything like their paper plates and their cups, but those actually can’t be recycled if there’s any remnants of food,” Martin added.

Canfield emphasized that it only takes one item to contaminate an entire bin. “A soda or an iced coffee or something like that … it goes all the way through and then the whole unit is contaminated. And not only do we have to throw away all the paper that’s in there, but we also have to take the time to clean the receptacle and make sure everything is ready for use again,” she said.

She added that there were about 50 paper recycling containers in Milne. “When you have a staff of three trying to maintain a building that’s open so many hours during the day, to take the time during those hours, to pull out contaminants is not a very good use of their labor hours,” she said.

After GEO’s two weeks of tabling are over, Mizutani expects that Facilities will begin monitoring the situation beginning on Monday Nov. 9 and replace the bins if they see an improvement.

Canfield said she was open to a trial period. “I’m kind of taking direction from the sustainability office as far as how they would like to proceed,” Canfield said. “We would like total participation.”

Reitz noted that she is hopeful that the bins will be replaced in Milne. “There are concrete steps,” she said. “Students know where to go, know what venues to reach out to; to make those sort of structural administrative changes in the college and there’s communication between the facilities and the students.”

Mizutani explained that she is still concerned, however. “I don’t know what will happen. It’s kind of scary actually,” she said. “I’m hoping we can prove that students can step up and change things through education and then Facilities will—in the future—be more optimistic about things changing for the better.”