In light of the imminent doom facing life on earth as we know it thanks to drastic climate changes in the last century, many institutions are turning to alternative waste methods to reduce their carbon footprint. Despite Wayne State's seemingly simple system, staff and students think there is room for improvement.
WSU uses a single-stream system recycling program to make recycling easier. In accordance to this system, the university janitorial staff is required to empty out trash and recycling containers and take them to outside bins for Detroit Disposal and Recycling to pick up.
In the 2018 academic year, WSU recycled over 120 tons of product — including paper, cardboard, plastics, metal and glass, WSU Chief Sustainability Officer Daryl Pierson said. Products collected on campus are transferred to Hamtramck Recycling for separating and processing where the waste material is repurposed.
Marcella Eid, a member of the facilities project group on Student Senate, said she is working on a resolution to better the university recycling system. One of the main clauses on the resolution is to increase and improve the quality of the recycling and trash bins.
Eid and other members of the group went to each building on campus to count and compare the trash and recycling bins. She said the group found the trash-to-recycling bins ratio to be unbalanced. She said they are finalizing the numbers and will implement their collected data in the final draft, which will be proposed at the Student Senate meeting March 7.
“The ratio was atrocious,” Eid said. “There were barely any recycling bins (in the buildings). In some cases, you would have to walk across the building to get to a recycling bin.”
Eid said the bins are often placed in inconvenient spots. She said if they were closer to the entrances and exits of buildings, students will be more likely to recycle.
“To us, a student should never think: ‘Should I throw this in the trash or inconveniently recycle?’” she said. “The main reason people don’t recycle is that they don’t have bins in their faces. I think if they have the option, most likely, students are going to recycle.”
Anthony Nichols, a custodian for the Student Center, said one of the main issues in the way of facilitating the university’s green efforts is the culture on campus regarding recycling. He said restaurant employees in the Student Center don’t break down cardboard boxes before throwing them outside in the recycling bins — leaving little room for more recyclables.
Nichols said a lot of recyclables are put in the trash, but custodians do not go through the trash to properly sort the items. It would be more efficient to create a separate custodial team to go through the trash and pick out the recyclables, he said.
“With the amount of responsibilities we have, there is not the time to go through every bag before throwing it in the trash,” he said.
Director of Custodial Services David Houle agrees that the culture on campus needs remediation.
“The biggest issue is to get the culture adapted to the reduce, reuse, recycle mentality,” he said. “It’s inevitable to find waste containers full of recyclables.”
Houle said he doesn’t allow janitorial staff to go through the trash to find recyclable items due to safety hazards.
“I’ve had some of my staff cut themselves with sharp objects there tends to be in containers,” he said.
Houle said he has been working with Pierson to create a plan that will bring more awareness and make students want to recycle more. The initiative will start with a comprehensive recycling assessment, which will asses each on-campus building.
“The university is about to launch a campus-wide recycling initiative targeted toward recycling education, engaging the campus community in actionable items and process improvement of the program,” Pierson said.
The Student Senate resolution and the Office of Sustainability’s program are not connected but both aim to combat the lack of recycling happening on campus. The exact launch date for the Office of Sustainability program is undetermined, but the program is still in progress Pierson said.
“I think WSU could do a lot better,” said Eid. “I think it needs to set an example for Detroit and the only way to do that is to be efficient (at recycling).”
Susana Hernandez is The South End’s WSU Board of Governors and campus housing beat reporter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cover photo by Ken Narita.