By Ivan Flores
Ever wonder what happens to those half-full bottles of soda or coffee cups that get thrown away? There’s a room in the Technical Industrial building where a handful of students rescue those containers and many other materials, putting them on track to be appropriately recycled. Their efforts are particularly important now. Washtenaw Community College is in the midst of competing with hundreds of other colleges in the United States and Canada in an annual event, RecycleMania.
RecycleMania originated as a faceoff between Ohio University and Miami University in 2001. Since then, it has grown into a major eight-week tournament with two divisions and several categories in each. During that period of time, schools report the weight of their waste and recyclables. This year’s tournament began on Feb. 8 and will end on April 2. The goals of RecycleMania are to promote awareness for recycling programs and to encourage students to avoid unnecessary waste.
Last year, WCC placed 49th out of 232 colleges in the main category: Grand Champion. 46 percent of all waste generated by the college was recycled or composted.
“Not bad,” said Barry Wilkins, head of WCC’s recycling operations. “But, we can do better.”
He explained that besides doing well in RecycleMania, or simply helping the environment, there’s a financial incentive to recycle.
“We pay to get rid of trash on this campus (but) our recyclables are revenue generators. Our goal is to (eventually) get to an 80, 90 percent recycling rate,” he said.
The revenue depends on the market price for commodities, but it can range anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000 with the current recycling rate. according to Wilkins.
But for him, it’s not about the money. He wants to engage the students, and give them opportunities to work and become more environmentally-conscious people.
Charles Roberson, a fashion design student, works at the school’s recycling center. He’s one of the people in charge of auditing the contents of recycling bins across campus.
You can recycle almost anything, Roberson said.. Sometimes it gets messy, but it’s going really well.
His sentiments are echoed by Dominique Bonner, another student worker at the recycling center.
“It’s not as bad as people might think…It’s a learning experience, what’s recyclable and what’s not. It’s not one of those things that people don’t think about – it affects everybody on every level,” Bonner said.
Heather Adkins works for Wilkins as a sort of public relations specialist. Her job is to raise awareness for RecycleMania and to engage the general student population. She’s teamed up with WCC’s Graphic Design Club to make posters for the event. Part of her efforts have included getting sponsorships from local business like Planet Rock and the Ark. Students who are caught recycling may be given raffle tickets for chances to win prizes from those businesses.
“When in doubt, recycle,” Adkins said. “ Pretty much everything in a Subway bag, including the bag, can be recycled… Aluminum is infinitely recyclable… Someone at the recycling center will make sure it ends up in the right place.”
Because WCC takes its material directly to recycling centers, it can accept things that aren’t recyclable at home, like styrofoam. However, please be nice to the recycling center workers, and make sure those bottles are empty.