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Guest Column: OU on verge of keeping trash out of dumpsters

Zero waste — Ohio University. That’s right. You might think, “No way, can’t happen.” I say it is possible and already under way.

What would it take and why bother?

Right now Ohio University is recovering 35 percent or more of its waste. Last year during RecycleMania we were recovering 40 percent of our waste. This includes everyday commodities like paper, glass, plastic and metals. We compost up to 14 tons of organics a week. For other categories such as construction, demolition and hazardous materials we take care of small or large amounts depending upon what project you look at.

What we are talking about here is full 100 percent recovery.

It is not so much a matter of how, but more like a matter of when. How long will it take to get there? Right now we are in a slow motion roll toward this end goal. OU has been recycling and trying to improve on the state of its waste recovery for years.

For nearly all the types of waste that OU generates — and in most places it is generated on campus—there is a process or soon-to-be implemented effort to recover this waste as a commodity rather than a burden that has to be buried in a landfill.

There is “gold” in them thar hills, in the form of consumed resources that can be channeled back into our economic system as a value-added product for use again as packaging, building materials and as the building blocks for other products and services.

There are faculty, staff, students and yes, even administrators throughout the campus, that are doing the good work of figuring out how to direct materials away from the trash dumpster. There are some great stories of people doing the good work around here that inspire me on a daily basis.

Last spring, the President and OU trustees adopted a comprehensive sustainability plan put together by a cross section of OU employees and students and the surrounding community over the previous year and a half.

This plan calls for a holistic approach to reducing our carbon footprint and waste, increasing important learning and researching to map out how the future of our society will do its business.

Paul Connett, an environmental chemist at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York talks about the “tyranny of small decisions.” One person throwing something away in the trash is not a big deal, but 24,000 people at OU doing that amounts to 4,000 or more tons of garbage per year. 280 million Americans doing this generates 300 million tons per year. We are 5 percent of the world’s population and we consume half of the world’s resources. Our 5 percent consumes more than China, which makes up 20 percent of the world’s population.

We could do much to improve our wasteful habits and we are on the road to “better” at OU. Recycling reduces a wide array of environmental problems while generating positive economic outcomes locally, regionally and beyond.

What single act does more than that besides love — it’s recycling!

Ed Newman is the recycling and refuse manager at Ohio University.

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