By Iván Flores
Washtenaw Community College recycles about 46 percent of all waste produced on campus. It’s well above the state average of 34 percent, but Barry Wilkins, recycling operations manager, thinks the school can do better. Someday, he hopes, the school’s efficiency will expand to 80 or 90 percent. But, the current facilities have reached their maximum capacity and there are tentative plans to move WCC’s recycling plant in 2017.
The current recycling plant is in the TI building. The space was designed to be a pseudo-loading dock for the building. The recycling center was placed there as a temporary measure, and there are logistical inconveniences when the space must serve its original purpose.
“We’re basically working on top of one another,” Wilkins said. “It’s not conducive to what we’re trying to accomplish.”
According to Wilkins, the new location would be in one of the school’s warehouses on the northwest side of campus. The space is currently used for storage by the college and the Ironworkers. If approved, the space would house the recycling center, building maintenance and Ironworker storage. Wilkins said logistical and administrative roadblocks make it hard to put a timeframe on the transition.
As the recycling operations manager, Wilkins has worked to make WCC an environmentally friendly campus. He coordinated the 2016 Welcome Day clean-up effort, which resulted in 94 percent of the waste being recycled.
Thanks to Wilkins, WCC has participated in a national recycling competition called Recyclemania year for the past five years. Over 600 colleges and universities take part; this year, WCC ranked 50.
Speaking about Welcome Day, Wilkins said, “Our original goal was to (recycle) 80 percent. It was a tremendous amount of work. It’s worth the effort.”
Joe Chapman is the head of WCC’s sustainability club. He has worked with Wilkins to improve the college’s efficiency.
According to Chapman, an organization called Zero Waste Washtenaw helped organize the Welcome Day event, and he would like to implement their system in the Student Center.
The new system would have three tiers- recyclables, compost, and trash. Chapman said the majority of waste produced in the student center can be recycled, even plastic wrappers and Subway sandwich bags.
In addition to the new recycling center, Wilkins hopes to make campus more environmentally friendly with a composting operation. He was recently started using a system involving worms to break down organic waste. The verma culture, as it is called, may be able to compost up to 500 lbs of waste per week once it is fully operational.
The sustainability club is planning on redesigning the poster boards currently above the waste bins to make them more accurate and user-friendly.
Wilkins and Chapman are also planning on placing all of the recycling bins in the student center next to an information table for a couple of weeks next semester.
The goal is to educate students about what materials are recyclable.