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Recycling bins at Ohio University in Athens Ohio, Nov 16, 2023.

OU takes initiative in recycling, sustainability

Across Ohio University’s campus, waste bins are labeled as “landfill” or “recycling.” Walking up to the two bins, one decides where the waste will go. One problem with sending waste away to landfills is that once it’s out of sight, the next steps are out of mind for many. 

Sam Crowl, the director of sustainability, said the recycling’s next stop is offsite dumpsters.

“Our staff will take it to our recycling dumpsters,” Crowl said. “We have a contract with Athens-Hocking Recycling Centers, and they come around with trucks to pick up that recycling, and they take it to The Plains, where they have a sorting facility.”

The sorting process is not nearly as simple as it seems. 

“They have tons of material being dumped on conveyor belts and a few people that are very quickly sorting things,” Crowl said.

If waste is mixed in with recycled material, the mix is directed to the landfill instead of completely separating everything due to the lack of time. Many people are aware not everything recycled will be recycled, so instead, they throw everything away. However, if people took a few extra seconds to remove the plastic fork from their cardboard box, or take the plastic lid off of their glass bottle, the diversion rate away from landfills would significantly increase, Crowl said.

“Those workers don't have time to make the decisions,” Crowl said. “We need to make them individually.”

Although movements toward sustainability can sometimes be missed by students, they do happen. One recent event was the 2023 Recycling Battle Royale between the different resident halls, a five-week-long recycling competition. According to the OU newsletter, Ryors Hall won with a rate of 38.48% for the highest level of waste diversion, and OU sent 232,374 pounds of recyclables to the Athens-Hocking Recycling Center. 

Additionally, a Sustainability and Climate Action Plan was approved by OU’s Office of Sustainability June 18, 2021. The plan includes a goal to increase the diversion rate of municipal waste to 60% by 2026. OU’s current diversion rate is 56.1%. 

Crowl also shared how OU has been far ahead of the curve. Ed Newman, the current co-director of Zero Waste at Rural Action, started RecycleMania at OU in January 2001.

“Ohio University started a program called RecycleMania, which is now called the campus Race to Zero Waste,” Crowl said. “It now has hundreds of institutions all across the world that do these competitions, and it started as OU versus Miami.” 

Catherine Galla, a junior studying environmental studies, works for the zero-waste initiative along with OU’s recycling crew. The Zero Waste team works on multiple sustainability initiatives. Recently, it has been working to provide composting alternatives for students in dorm rooms. 

“Two years ago, they started a compost program inside the dorms,” Galla said. “Students are able to opt-in to a little compost bin that they can keep in their dorm, and they’d be responsible for emptying it at different locations, behind Nelson, Baker and Boyd.”

The team also helps to move supplies out of buildings that are no longer being used. They take the time to sort all the materials and help with the transportation to the recycling center. 

Sustainability works with suppliers of hygienic products or school materials. The team brings recycling and compost to sporting events like football games so that every aspect of campus life can incorporate sustainability. When asked what she has learned from being a part of the change, Galla shared new perspectives on the horizons of recycling outreach. 

“Recycling can be a part of every single corporation, but it’s not as common or accessible as we think, and there’s a lot more that goes into it than what meets the eye,” she said. 

Gabby Gosciewski, a senior studying forensic chemistry, works for the recycling crew as well, and she shared how she now understands the abundance of opportunities for almost anything to be recycled, making sustainability achievable. 

“(I now know) that people actually take in light bulbs and process them to be reused or recycled, or how they take in old computers to sell the parts or repurpose them,” Gosciewski said. 

As for OU’s upcoming sustainability reforms through the Action Plan, Crowl said he was excited about plans concerning renewable energy.

“We have a project right now that is looking at putting about two megawatts of rooftop solar on six different buildings on campus,” Crowl said. “We’ve been working with the Board of Trustees to approve some of these construction plans for quite some time, and I think we’re at a place where it’s actually going to happen.”

Gosciewski also shared upcoming plans for the campus recycling team.

“The closer we get to Winter Break, we will probably be starting some food collection drives and clothes collections,” Gosciewski said. “If you've ever been in your dorms and seen the red bins saying, ‘Donate your food here’ or 'Drop off your clothes here,’ that's through us, and we donate it to different partners.”

Another change is Athens’ ban on all plastic bags, going into effect Jan. 1, 2024. Plans are being approved and initiatives taken, but the only way for real change to happen is by making a conscious effort to change behavior, said Galla. 

“You can tell people to adopt this practice, but at the end of the day, we live in a consumer-and convenience-based society,” Galla said.


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