In my experience with environmental and women’s rights issues, I have learned that true, palpable change takes time and comes two ways, cultural and political. My position at the University of Idaho Sustainability Center as the recycling coordinator straddles both cultural and political realms.
Cultural change for recycling means people are used to seeing recycling bins and even expect it. This has been apparent at Game Day Recycling, where UISC staff and volunteers collect recyclable aluminum, glass and plastic from tailgate participants. The alumni who camp there in their RVs have come to expect this service, and need no explanation about how the process works. But it took a few years to get to this point, after many bumps and hiccups along the way. This also requires a good deal of education, like what can be recycled and what Moscow Recycling will accept. People also can be encouraged to purchase items that are more recyclable than others, like buying drinks in cans because aluminum can be recycled an infinite number of times while glass is very difficult to recycle. As more people grow up seeing recycle bins and develop the habit of sorting their waste, recycling will become second nature to people. Of course, this is not quite a reality. Many people don’t yet know enough about environmental impacts to care enough to actively recycle, but great strides have been observed in the past few years.
Then there is change implemented through policy, from governments and administrations. Governments make laws and regulations while administrations can implement institutional change from the top down. This has been the more difficult part of establishing recycling on campus. Different departments have different ideas about how important recycling is, and without everyone’s agreement and support, it is impossible to have successful programs. In the case of UI, the occupants of each building have to be willing to collect their recyclables in the provided containers, and the Facilities Department has to pick up the recyclables and bring them to Moscow Recycling. Every party involved might have to make some sacrifices and put in a little more effort.
Washington State University recycles over 60 percent of their total waste, while UI does less than half of that. They also have been successfully composting since 1994, and many students have noticed our composting program is on hold due to a lack of support from involved groups. The truth is that with both composting and recycling, it requires more effort but saves money in the long run, and it is just so much better for the planet than throwing everything in a landfill.
It takes a long time to make sustainable change a reality and a lot of work. It’s not going to happen overnight and it certainly won’t happen without the support of everyone involved. The small amount of effort put it now can make a huge different in the long run, both in the local community and on a global scale. Just think about it before you throw something in the trash.
Emily Rankin can be reached at www.uidaho.edu/sustainability