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Saint Mary’s implements hard-to-recycle item bins to improve campus sustainability

| Thursday, March 18, 2021

Saint Mary’s is encouraging students to be more environmentally conscious by having a “Recyle-a-Thon Res Life Contest” by collecting hard-to-recycle items in the trash room of each residence hall. The initiative is sponsored by Eco Belles, the Office for Civic and Social Engagement (OSCE), Student Government Association (SGA) and the Program in Theatre.

Until the end of March, the number of hard-to-recycle items collected in each hall will be tallied each week and the residents of the winning dorm will each receive an “Eco-Kit,” according to an email to students from program coordinator and theatre professor Melissa Bialko. The email also said the items collected will later be used during Earth Week in an upcycling contest.

Genevieve Coleman | The Observer
New hard-to-recycle item bins are now in every residence hall, so students can dispose of items that cannot be recycled regularly.

In an interview with Bialko, she distinguished hard-to-recycle items from items that can be recycled normally.

“A hard-to-recycle item is one that is not commonly accepted at most recycling facilities,” she said. “For instance, almost every facility accepts plastic juice bottles, beer cans [and] newspaper … We accept everything from DVDs to Styrofoam food packaging, to contact lenses, to shoes, toothbrushes, pens, pencils, markers, highlighters.”

Bialko emphasized that students can donate damaged or broken items.

“One of the really important points I want to make is that we will accept items in any condition,” she said. “They can be used, they can be broken, they can be torn, they can be a shoe with a busted heel.”

These broken items will not be reused, however, they will be sent to a recycling program that accepts them, Bialko said.

“It’s not necessarily that we’re going to take these items and wear them or find someone to wear them,” she said. “Although with goods that can be worn, we try to give them a new life that way. But things that are totally busted or unusable, we find a way to recycle as well, and I think that’s great.”

According to Bialko, while donations do not have to be in good condition, they must still fulfill other requirements.

“Everything must be clean, empty and dry, so if you’re giving us an old lipstick, the lipstick should be removed out of it,” she said. “… If it’s a shampoo bottle that can’t be recycled normally, that should be rinsed out.”

Bialko explained that the project began out of a personal interest in sustainability, because of the waste generated in the field of theatre.

“I wanted to take on some kind of effort as part of the theatre, partially because theatre is a very, very wasteful industry,” she said. “We build stuff and there’s a lot of production waste associated with our producing of props, costumes and scenery.”

Bialko said the initiative grew because a group of students who shared her passion for sustainability and later became the Eco Belles.

“Because these students are so enthusiastic and interested, we started to look at other things that needed to be recycled,” she said. “We have enrolled in several recycling programs through TerraCycle, which is probably the nation’s largest mass hard-to-recycle items facility. Then any local programs, we enroll in, we take advantage of that.”

She said she is hopeful that, in the future, all materials can be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.

“We are hoping to get to a point where we can say, ‘Recycle your paper, recycle your cans — recycle those things in the regular recycling bins — compost your food and we will take everything else‘.”

Bialko described how individuals should try to reduce their consumption or reuse their items before they recycle.

“It is important to note that reduce, reuse, recycle are in the order that we should operate to be effective,” Bialko said. “Recycling actually uses a lot of resources, so it should be considered a final option. Therefore, reducing is most important, reusing is second and recycling is your final option when thinking about what to do with goods no longer needed by you.”

Bialko went further by explaining how people can reduce consumption and reuse objects.

“Reduce is to reduce your consumption in the first place, such as not buying single-use items or heavily packaged items, or falling into the fast fashion consumer trap,” she said. “Reusing can be repurposing, like using cute jam jars as succulent containers, or upcycling, like making an old sweater into a skirt and mittens.”

People can also limit their consumption through refusing or composting items, Bialko said.

“We also now add ‘Refuse,’ as in, refuse unwanted items like gifts in favor of experiences or services, or swag bags at conferences or parties,” she said. “The final ‘R’ is ‘Rot,’ as in compost. You can deposit your leftover lunch food for eventual composting on our campus farm in bins in the [dining hall] near the exit by the deck. There is a second compostable bin in the [dining] tent.”

Bialko stressed the far-reaching, global consequences of not properly recycling items.

“It is extremely important to follow these R’s to keep items out of landfills or from being shipped abroad for other countries to deal with,” Bialko said. “We send tons and tons of donated clothes to third-world countries, preventing their own fashion and textile industries from flourishing, and leaving them to dispose of — often by burning — our unwanted goods that have turned into their unwanted goods. The problem with landfills are many, including the gases created by decomposing objects, seepage of toxins into land and water, and the sheer fact that they are unsightly and take up space.”

Sophomore Caroline Kopack created posters for the hard-to-recycle items project and aims to encourage students to live more sustainably by limiting their consumption.

“What I would like people to know about sustainability is that recycling is amazing, but it’s also important to reduce your consumption as well,” Kopack said.

Junior Grace Floerchinger is the chair of SGA’s Food Sustainability Committee and collaborated with the Sustainability Committee to sponsor the contest and provide prizes for the winners. She also highlighted the need to dispose of hard-to-recycle items so they do not become waste in landfills.

“It is important to recycle otherwise hard-to-recycle items to divert these goods from ending up in landfills as waste,” Floerchinger said.

Floerchinger also encouraged students to participate in the challenge so they can help create an art installation and be more conscious about recycling.

“As it relates to the contest happening on campus, the collected items will be upcycled and used for an art installation,” Florechinger said. “Students should participate in this contest to not only get into the habit of recycling, but also to increase their chances of receiving the ‘Eco-Kit’ prize while helping out the art students.”

According to Bialko, the bins will remain in each dorm’s trash room after the collection contest has finished. Students are asked to not add trash or regularly recycled items to the bins and to call the extension listed on the side of the bin when it is full.

“Eco Belles has a collection schedule, but if a bin is ever overflowing, there is a phone number on the bin poster to call to report the need for collection,” Bialko said.

Bialko expressed pride in working with members of the College to create a more sustainable campus.

“Saint Mary’s is working harder every day to be more sustainable and to be better custodians of our environment,” she said. “I’m really proud to be a part of that … and I’m really excited that so many students are also going to be a part of that.”

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About Genevieve Coleman

Genevieve Coleman is a junior at Saint Mary's majoring in English literature and secondary education with minors in theatre and English writing. She currently serves as Saint Mary's News Editor.

Contact Genevieve