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University looks to boost recycling

Maureen Mullen | Friday, September 28, 2007

Student environmental activists and University administrators say they want to improve and expand recycling at Notre Dame by implementing new initiatives and organizing educational campaigns this year.

Many departments and individuals at the University expend great effort to recycle, said Amy Amoni, director of Project Management for University Business Operations.

But, she said, “there are also so many opportunities for improvement.”

Notre Dame currently recycles 61 percent of its solid waste. This summer, the University switched to a single-stream recycling system. This switch represents a major step forward, said junior Lourdes Long, a student environmentalist and member of the Energy Center Student Advisory Board.

Until recently, Long said, campus recyclables had been sorted and disposed of separately, according to the particular material. A single-stream system allows for the mingling of recyclable paper and mixed containers in a single bin. Long said the convenience of single-stream recycling should increase participation on campus.

“The easier we make recycling, the more people will recycle,” Long said.

Long and Amoni stressed the impact individual participation can have on Notre Dame’s recycling rate. Student and faculty behavior can overwhelmingly affect the University’s recycling statistics, Long said. It is the minimal recycling in many dormitories and offices that requires serious improvement, she said.

“We want people to realize it is easy to be green – very simple changes can help,” Amoni said.

Long hopes her generation has been raised to understand the importance of recycling.

“This isn’t my cause,” she said. “It’s everybody’s cause.”

Long has teamed up with other environmentally concerned students to encourage their peers to recycle.

This year, Notre Dame will participate in Recyclemania, a nationwide recycling competition for universities. Recyclemania will last for three months during the spring semester and will be a dorm competition. Notre Dame will compete in a per capita contest, Long said, and each dorm will be challenged to be the leader in recycling.

“I think education is really key,” she said. “There are student environmental commissioners in every dorm now.”

Students are not the only environmental activists on campus, Long said. A host of University administrators, too, are working to increase environmental awareness within the Notre Dame community.

This summer, Amoni said, the University hired a student to do an audit of the prevalence and placement of recycling bins in every building on campus. The student drew up blueprints of every floor of every building and indicated where recycling bins were placed. Amoni said this data will help the University assess where more bins are needed.

“In a lot of older buildings,” Amoni said, “it can be hard to find a location that is not in the way but still in the midst of everything.”

Long said Notre Dame recycling procedures are not well known.

“There is the myth that the University isn’t actually recycling what it collects in recycling bins,” Long said.

While she encourages stronger efforts to recycle, Long applauded the University’s role in helping students with the Michigan State game day recycling effort. Long was a student leader in the initiative that provided recycling bags to tailgaters in the Hesburgh Library parking lot and encouraged fans to properly recycle.

“All credit has to go to Business Operations and Building Services,” Long said.

Long and Amoni also said Notre Dame Food Services does a great deal to incorporate environmental practices in dining hall operations. Food Services has made an effort to purchase fair-trade and local items. In addition, Food Service employees attend energy efficiency training programs, Long said.

Bulk purchases, the reduction of packaging materials, and leftover food donation are all ways Food Services protects the environment, Long said.

Investigating the value of biodegradable items and the possibility of composting or pulping food are two measures Food Services wants to pursue.

Patrick O’Hara, the manager of Warehouse Services, oversees the pick-up and bailing of all recyclables from Notre Dame, St. Mary’s and WNDU. O’Hara said only one member of his staff is responsible for the pick-up of campus recyclables. One person was also responsible for the pick-up of recyclables in 1990 when Notre Dame’s recycling program began. O’Hara said as the recycling program has grown, so has the strain on his staff.

“I’m blessed with a great staff,” O’Hara said, “but we need help. It is a lot of work for one person to sort this, empty trucks and get back on campus to do it again.”

With the move to single-stream and with other initiatives underway that could increase amounts of recycling waste, O’Hara said additional staffing might become necessary.

Amoni said the University has had the idea of creating an official Office of Sustainability in the future, which would lead to a continual expansion of environmental efforts on campus. It is likely that within a year, the University will hire an employee dedicated solely to developing green efforts at Notre Dame, Amoni said.

“Green is not a trend,” she said. “It is here to stay. It is how we must do business.”