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Colleges are improving waste reduction and recycling efforts

Friday, April 15, 2016 - 12:00am

Many public universities and community colleges in North Carolina are improving their waste reduction efforts by better educating people and creating more recycling opportunities on campuses, according to a survey conducted by the McCrory administration’s environmental department.

The survey asked publicly funded colleges to weigh in on their strategies for managing waste and recycling.

The results of the survey were eye-opening:

  • The 61 responding colleges recycled 19,000 tons of materials, or 34 percent of the waste they managed in fiscal 2014-15.
  • All 61 schools that responded have programs devoted to recycling traditional items such as cans, bottles and paper. Some of the more advanced programs also recycle a range of other products, including automotive fluids and food waste.
  • One of the most successful strategies schools are using to promote recycling is education. 59 of the schools use some type of inexpensive education at the bin, either by labeling bins or placing signs and stickers on or near them.

The survey also revealed that there is room for improvement and suggested numerous ways to tackle waste reduction and enhance recycling at campuses statewide.

A new state survey recommends colleges put trash and recycling bins together, or “twin the bin,” as seen in this photograph at UNC-Chapel Hill. 

For starters, the survey suggested that campuses can learn from strategies others are already using such as placing recycling and trash bins together in all locations on campus, or ‘twinning the bin,’ said Sandy Skolochenko, the environmental specialist who was lead author of the survey.

“Putting the bins together at every location on campus provides a convenient option to recycle and conveys a message that recycling is a priority,” Skolochenko said.

Another successful strategy involves placing recycling and trash bins at public locations across campus, not just classroom and office buildings. Six universities that boast successful recycling programs, including Appalachian State, N.C. Central and N.C. State, offer recycling in parking lots, sports venues, meeting facilities, theaters and along sidewalks for pedestrians.  

The survey also recommends that universities and colleges commingle their recyclable items, which allows people to place all recyclable goods in one container rather than separating paper and plastic and other recyclable materials among multiple containers. Seven universities and 20 community colleges in North Carolina are seeing success by commingling the recyclable items and then contracting with a materials recovery facility to separate the recyclables before they are sent to be processed. Skolochenko and Scott Mouw, the state’s recycling and materials management section chief, said commingling paper, plastic and other materials makes it much easier for people to get in the habit of recycling and reduces collection costs.

“Many schools are leading the way in waste reduction and recycling by educating people on campus and creating convenient opportunities where they can reduce, reuse and recycle,” Mouw said.          

People may read the survey report online at: