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Learning to recycle

UP photo by Abigail Pennington
UP photo by Abigail Pennington

Lamar has more than 3,000 recycling bins on campus. Every classroom, office and dorm room has access to recycling. However, Lamar is currently recycling only eight percent of its waste, Alicen Flosi, director of sustainability, said.

“We are doing a lot more than we used to,” she said. “Some of the dorms have competitions. Their recycling bins are filled up, so that’s a lot more than we ever used to do.”

When Flosi became the director of sustainability in 2014, one of her first priorities was recycling.

“The way you’re supposed to do it, is everywhere you have a trash bin you should have a recycling bin,” she said. “That way people can make the right choice. But, it’s a lot more work and people have to do it right.”

This year, Lamar is participating in RecycleMania, an eight-week-long competition between universities to increase recycling efforts and reduce waste.

“The people who do our recycling will send me the numbers once a week, and I send it to RecycleMania,” Flosi said.

These weekly numbers are shared with, and compared to, other universities. This year will serve as a benchmark year to compare Lamar’s waste and recycling to other universities. In 2020, Lamar will participate in RecycleMania as a competitor.

Flosi’s goal for 2020 is at least 15 or 20 percent recycling. She thinks the increase is possible if everyone knows how.

Recycling is not commonplace in Southeast Texas, and students often misuse the green containers on campus.

“This person walked up and tried to put their trash in the trash can but it was full, so they just turned around and put it in the recycling,” Carolyn Langhoff, Lake Jackson senior, said.

The recycling bins on campus accept types one, two and five of plastic, as well as cardboard and paper. The type of plastic is shown by the number in the middle of the recycling symbol. Plastic bottles that hold liquids need to be empty, but do not have to be rinsed out. Straws and foam containers are not recyclable.

“If it doesn’t have the recycle symbol on it, throw it in the trash,” Flosi said. “People want to recycle as much as they can and think, ‘It’s plastic, it’s OK,’ but it’s not OK.”

Products contaminated by food, like greasy pizza boxes, are not recyclable.

“You could tear off the portions with grease on them, but people never do that,” Flosi said.

It’s important to pay attention to what we put in the recycling bins, Flosi said, because one wrong item in the recycling bin could mean the whole bin gets sorted into trash instead of being recycled.

“If I throw away my Styrofoam cup, and there’s a lot of paper in the bin, then it gets everything wet,” she said. “Our custodians don’t have time to sort it all out, so if it’s ruined they throw it all in the trash.”

All recyclable materials can go into the same bin.

“The people who do our recycling waste management prefer ‘single stream recycling,’” Flosi said.

Single stream recycling means all recyclables get put into the same bin and are later hand sorted by type. It is more convenient for students to not sort their own recyclables and also assures that the recyclables will be sorted correctly later.

Flosi said that it is important to recycle, because it reduces the number of things in the landfills that are never going to decompose.

“When you start to see the impact on animals, the environment, climate change that we are already experiencing with extreme weather patterns and flooding— I just feel we can get more average American people into recycling,” she said.

Flosi’s plans for the future of sustainability at Lamar include going paperless and using partially recycled materials.

“Going paperless pretty much means doing everything online,” she said. “Because of Blackboard, we don’t have to print out our syllabus anymore and a lot of teachers allow you to turn in assignments online so you don’t have to print it out.”

Flosi said she would like Lamar to lead the way for Southeast Texas to start doing better.

“I think we’ve come to a point where, if we don’t do something now, our future generations are going to be hurting, so why would we not?” she said.

There is a simple phrase that Flosi uses to sum up her philosophy.

“First reduce, then recycle, and then buy things that are made out of recycled materials,” she said.

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Story by Claire Robertson, UP contributor

Category: Features