University falls behind in recycling endeavors

Just before 8 a.m., a student is awakened by the rumble of a garbage truck loading trash. The truck is filled with all sorts of plastic bags, diapers and aluminum cans heading to nearby landfills that will be their new home for the next 15 to 500-plus years.

As landfills across the country are being filled rapidly because of a lack of recycling, universities around the nation are placing more emphasis on recycling on campus.

FAMU’s effort

With an enrollment of nearly 12,000 students and approximately 4,000 employees, Florida A&M University accumulates trash at an overwhelming rate. And FAMU has no formal on-campus recycling program.

“It’s something (the Student Government Association is) interested in,” said Phillip Agnew, FAMU student body president. “We just have to see how feasible it would be. SGA would have no problem moving to a waste-management cycle that’s more energy-efficient.”

In an effort to show some initiative in on-campus recycling, FAMU has six strategically placed receptacles for cardboard located around campus that are emptied on a regular basis. The receptacles are located behind Foote-Hilyer, beside the post office and near the girls’ dorms. But an official recycling program for aluminum cans, glass, plastic or paper does not exist.

Some FAMU employees agree that a paper-recycling program is needed on campus, especially in those sectors where high volumes of paper are being used. FAMU copy center manager William Brown said the copy center, which serves faculty, staff and students, uses approximately 5,000 sheets weekly.

“I think we should recycle,” said Brown. “We’re a university, and recycling is just a respectable thing for a university to do.”

FAMU does have systems in place to recycle universal and hazardous wastes around campus. Bari Shepard, the FAMU environmental safety and health coordinator, said FAMU properly disposes of all chemicals from the photography labs as well as all the corrosive and flammable chemicals from the various research labs around campus.

Much importance is placed on the collection of mercury because it takes only one teaspoon to cause substantial contamination. Many of the photo wastes, including the Kodak developer in the graphic communication area, are collected on campus and sent to an outside source that turns it into Freon for air conditioning units.

Shepard said the hazardous chemicals recycled on campus include acetone, hexin, cyanide and ethyl, all flammable substances. FAMU also recycles universal waste such as light bulbs, ink jet cartridges, latex paint, batteries and motor and cooking oil.

Old university furniture, equipment and computers are also recycled. Laverne Washington, a coordinator and administrative services employee, said unwanted university furniture and equipment in good shape is put up for public auction on campus. If it is not sold, the item is turned over to a local recycling company that breaks it down to be resold or recycled.

Campus officials make independent moves

Shepard said the lack of a formal program is the result of the shortage of personnel. She credits the last attempt to implement a formal program to her former employee Renee Morse, who organized the placement and pickup of the cardboard and other recycling bins around campus. She also worked with a program that began in 2004 as a partnership with Anheuser-Busch called the Take Pride program, a student-led effort to promote and educate students on responsible recycling behavior.

Kristen Black, director of community affairs for Tri-Eagle Sales, the local distributor of Anheuser-Busch that helped create the program at FAMU and Florida State University, said, “Anheuser-Busch gives grants to keep Leon County beautiful.”

Throughout Take Pride, which took place during football season, “Student groups would volunteer to walk around before the home football games and set up trash receptacles and hand out trash bags to tailgaters and vendors,” Black said.

The program was geared toward collecting paper, aluminum and plastic. Black said game patrons were encouraged to take their recyclable goods home. Student organizations that participated were awarded $500 by Anheuser-Busch to use for their organization to do charity work.

Take Pride initially began as a litter-reduction program, but because of its success has become more inclusive at FSU.

“The success of the program has caused the focus to shift to more on the recycling element, which also reduces litter,” Black said. In addition, the FSU program was extended year-round to cover baseball season.

But the FAMU program became defunct after 2004. Black attributes the end of the program to high turnover rates in FAMU student government and environmental safety departments.

“It’s a matter of finding the right people to work with the program,” said Black. “There has to be students who want to do it and administration to help facilitate it.” She added that several unsuccessful attempts were made to keep the program running. But Shepard said the miscommunication could have been a result of the departure of Morse.

Recycling efforts elsewhere

FAMU is behind in recycling when compared to other Florida universities with similar populations. The University of North Florida is a prime example.

“We have an entire division for recycling,” said Jerry Garner, program assistant and supervisor at the UNF recycling center. “We had to start one because it was mandated by the state legislature.”

According to Section 2, Chapter 403.7145 of the Florida Statutes, which was issued in Florida in 1988 and made Florida a recycling state by putting forth the Solid Waste Act, “Each state agency, the judicial branch of state government, and the state university system shall collect and sell, to the greatest extent practicable, recyclable materials and products used during the operation of facilities and offices.”

Garner said that UNF’s system has been in place for the last five years, and it recycles everything from books, cardboard and glass to wood pallets and aluminum cans.

In addition, it implemented the innovative recycling technique of using a cardboard crusher to recycle aluminum cans by crushing them into a compressed cube.

UNF does not receive a lot of financial gain from recycling, but Garner said the reward is in keeping the trash out of landfills.

Chuck Hubbock, assistant director of physical facilities at UNF, said it adheres to the mandate and the Leadership in Engineering and Environmental Design program, which gives a national award to agencies and universities that conserve energy by building energy-conserving buildings.

In addition, UNF has several 40-foot semi-trailers for recyclable goods that are scattered around campus and emptied every five to six weeks, and smaller bins to separate paper, cardboard, books, steel, plastic and wood pallets.

There are also plans to purchase two state-of-the-art trash compactors at approximately $13,000 apiece, said Hubbock. “The cost isn’t that great. It’s more a matter of goodwill and doing the right thing.”

FAMU learns fromothers

Meanwhile, FAMU is making moves to step up its own recycling program. But to make it happen, Shepard said, “you the need the support of upper management.” This, Shepard said, can happen if students speak out and talk to the right people.

Shepard said the shortage of manpower keeps the FAMU environmental safety department from being able to place all the respective bins around campus and then have them picked up and emptied on a regular basis.

“Housekeeping won’t do it,” said Shepard. “It’s really sad. The less trash we get the better. It’s very expensive to run a university. If you can recycle, then do it. It’ll be good for the environment.”

In an effort to turn FAMU into a more environmentally friendly campus, the Faculty Senate recently passed a unanimous resolution to turn FAMU into a “green campus.”

“I did it because it’s the right thing to do,” said LaRae Donnellan, a Faculty Senate member and public relations professor. She submitted the resolution because she believes “it’s an investment in the future for ourselves and our children and their children.”

Donnellan said that many of the possible changes that will be made in FAMU’s transformation were borrowed from the University of Pennsylvania’s environmental audit. These changes include, but are not limited to, buying recycled materials and office supplies, ride sharing and decal sharing, having instructors post class materials online, using double-sided photocopies, recycling, sharing and recycling hazardous materials, and recovering Freon from refrigerators and air conditioners.

“If faculty, staff, students and administrators decide this is really important, it can happen sooner than later,” Donnellan said. “However, we can start now with some relatively simple things, such as an educational campaign and recycling. We contribute too much to our landfills.”

In addition, faculty members do not anticipate an increase in costs to get the program up and running.

“Studies show that going green need not cost any more than what organizations pay now,” Donnellan said. “In fact, going green actually can save a lot of money in the short term and in the long run in operating expenses. But more than that, we’d be cutting our ‘carbon footprint’ on the earth and making an investment in our future.”

Problems in the future

Tallahassee residential areas, businesses and schools, including FAMU, have contributed a great deal of trash to the Leon County Solid Waste Facility. In fact, so much trash was contributed that the facility was forced to stop accepting all Class I garbage, which is made up of basic kitchen and bathroom garbage.

According to Nancy Paul, the superintendent for the Leon County landfill and solid waste division, solid waste officials realized that the need for a new landfill was approaching because the current landfill was already overfilled.

“In ’96, we began to approach the project because we knew we were approaching our capacity,” Paul said. However, because of the “not in my backyard” syndrome, the majority of Tallahassee residents voted against building a new landfill within Tallahassee city limits to take in the approximately 3,500 tons of Class I garbage created per week.

The syndrome is described as the objection to the establishment of projects that are believed to be dangerous, unsightly or otherwise undesirable in a neighborhood, but no objection to them being located elsewhere.

Although Class III garbage, large, bulky solid items such as debris and furniture, is still accepted at the Leon County facility, all Class I garbage is now shipped out to a new landfill in Jackson County.

“It all starts on the front end,” Paul said. “Pretty soon we’re going to run out of acres and places where people will let us put our (garbage). The way landfills are designed, things like plastic will never degrade. It pays not to produce waste in the first place. It takes about $500,000 and many acres to build a new Class I landfill.”

Economists worldwide are also concerned about the dangers of overcrowding landfills. According to Eco-Cycle, a 30-year-old recycling initiative in Boulder, Colo., landfills are a massive contributor to global warming.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency Web site, only one curbside-recycling program existed 20 years ago. Today there are almost 9,000 curbside programs and 32 percent of waste is recycled. According to the EPA, the recycling of aluminum cans has increased 45 percent.

For two weeks in September, several organizations got together to form CANpaign 2006, a community recycling effort to collect aluminum cans. Contributors were paid 40 cents per pound, which is 10 cents more per pound than local aluminum dealers pay.

“CANpaign was formed in response to the U.S. Conference of Mayors,” said Anja DeLoach, the recycling coordinator for the city of Tallahassee. “The conference challenged each of the mayors to see who can collect the most cans in their respective cities. We collected five tons. So we exceeded our expectations.

“We hope more people will take up recycling at home and see how easy it is to recycle. Recycling is more important than ever. We need to get the word out.”

And although DeLoach said that neither local university participated, people across the nation are making the shift toward recycling.

“I believe that global warming unfortunately is a reality and that all of our lives will be drastically affected within the not-too-distant future,” Donnellan said. “Each of us needs to do what we can. Little steps can make a difference.”

These articles are part of coordinated special reports in the FSView/Florida Flambeau and The Famuan and were produced by Florida State and Florida A&M students in a course on in-depth reporting in the Division of Journalism at FAMU. The reporters are Shane McFarlane of Florida State and Gheni Platenburg of Florida A&M; they were supervised by Professor Joe Ritchie and his graduate assistant, Bryan Falla.