You might have seen sights like this around the common grounds of campus. The cause is not clear but the need for new information is. To help remedy this campus wide confusion among students, we got in touch with Office of Environmental Policy Intern and 6th semester Environmental Engineering student, Katie Main.
Daily Campus: In the bins that are most common around the campus grounds, (the metal black and green caged bins labeled trash and recycle) what type of recycle systems take care of these receptacles? Are they single stream or other?
Katie Main: The trash and recycling bins on campus are taken off campus by Williwaste, located in Willimantic, CT. The recycling bins take Mixed Recycling (previously known as single stream), meaning that any recyclable item can be put in the bin and will be sorted later at the Williwaste Single Stream sorting facility. Trash, however, must go in the trash receptacles/bins and do not go through a sorting process. (More info can be found on WilliWaste's website)
DC: What is the OEP's role in trash and waste management campus wide?
Main: The OEP is not directly involved in trash and waste management or collection. However, we do work a lot on increasing awareness regarding waste management. Green Game Days, for one example, are meant to teach UConn fans at basketball and football games about what can and can't be recycled. We also use events like Green Game Day to raise awareness regarding how UConn and most of CT has mixed recycling (sometimes referred to as Single Stream), which means recycling does not have to be sorted before going in the recycling bin, and that it is sorted later. The OEP has initiated the name change at UConn from single stream recycling to Mixed Recycling, since the previous term was so confusing. We are always willing to work with them on projects to improve waste management at UConn any way we can.
DC: How informed do you see the student body regarding trash and recycling policies?
Main: Some students are very well informed and some are not, which can be very hard to gauge overall. I think the term single stream recycling has confused a lot of people, because some people think that means trash and recycling can go in the same bin, but that is not the case (as previously explained). However, with more and more engagement and outreach activities, we are seeing more informed students who are then able to share information with others. The unfortunate and complicated part is trying to get people to always recycle and not be so lax about it, because waste is a very serious issue for humans and our planet. Many people in CT and especially at UConn don't see the harm that we cause with excessive waste creation and lack of waste diversion, but a lot of people locally and around the world are very much affected. We can actually make a really significant difference to humans and other animals around the world by reducing our waste via efficient recycling.
DC: If any, what new actions is the OEP or similar organizations doing to manage waste more efficiently?
Main: The OEP primarily focuses on outreach efforts (like aforementioned Green Game Day) regarding waste management, because a lot of the issues with our recycling rates are due to the lack of awareness among students and the campus community. UConn has a composting facility that currently only composts agricultural waste but work is being done on using dining hall waste incorporated too. I know that facilities is currently working on initiatives to reduce the number of bags they use for trash and recycling, because that counts as waste as well. They will be keeping closer tabs on how many bags go out to campus, as well as reducing smaller sized trash bags in offices and buildings in order to promote waste stations/rooms that use the larger bags and don’t fill up as quickly. Dining Services is also always working to reduce food waste, and have used various technologies/equipment like the E-correct and the Phood app, which was developed by a UConn alumni to track food waste in dining halls and restaurants.
DC: Do you enjoy working as an intern there, and if yes why?
Main: I love working as a Sustainability Intern at the OEP because it is a really unique opportunity for so many reasons! First of all, we are getting experience working on projects that entry-level employees would be working on in a real life setting, which includes developing outreach material, working with data spreadsheets, communicating with various important people across campus, taking notes or meeting minutes, etc. Second, we have access to so many resources. The OEP consists of the Sustainability Office and Environmental Compliance Office, so we interact directly with Environmental analysists, lawyers, and engineers on at least a weekly basis. We also have strong working relationships with multiple other departments, like Facilities Operations & Building Services, ResLife, student groups, and UPDC, etc. Third, we cover so many different areas of sustainability, from Uconn's Greenhouse Gas Inventory to Green Office Certification, and from the Sierra Club surveys to running Green Game Days, and of course even more! This is awesome because it caters to every intern's personal interests, and our supervisors try to organize our individual work to reflect and revolve around those specific interests. Lastly, and my favorite part, is that the Office of Environmental Policy is such a friendly and happy work environment, and everyone is so passionate about the work that we do. The interns and staff even spend time together outside of work, and it just makes the Office such a positive and enjoyable work environment.
Dan Wood is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.