November 15 annually marks America Recycles Day, a day in which we celebrate advances in recycling and redouble efforts to increase public awareness and participation in community recycling efforts. Recycling is often described as the gateway to sustainability because it’s easy to understand why reducing, reusing and recycling whenever possible has a positive impact on the environment. Recycling is becoming more and more ingrained in our culture every year, which is certainly something to celebrate!
Despite many advances, correct waste sorting continues to be both a priority and a moving target at Washington University. Outdated signs and a complex mix of disposable to-go ware has lead to high rates of contamination. Too often, food and liquids contaminate recycling and non-organic materials end up in our compost. Aligned with America Recycles Day, the month of November has featured a wide variety of outreach and education to correct misunderstandings and reinvigorate responsible waste management on the WashU campus.
This semester, the Office of Sustainability has been working on developing new signs and stickers for waste bins, which are working their way into the most high-traffic and waste-heavy areas on campus. The new signage includes some major changes to waste sorting guidelines. We have removed the old motto “When in doubt, recycle” to highlight the importance of reading the signs and keeping contaminants out of the recycling bins.
Other changes you will notice are that paper to-go cups and boxes are NOT recyclable and should be put in landfill (although to-go boxes should be composted, if composting is available). As a reminder, food and liquids are the primary contaminant in the recycling loads, so always make sure your containers are empty before recycling them. Click here to read more about the changes to the guidelines.
You can now fast track your access to the most up-to-date signs and labels, where they can be quickly printed and posted in your living, learning and working spaces.
Recycling Geniuses are volunteers who have been trained on new waste sorting guidelines, and are providing educational outreach for the campus community. This week, you can find Recycling Geniuses inside the DUC between 12-2 pm, and in Bear’s Den between 7-9 pm. The week after Thanksgiving, they will be stationed in Bauer Hall during lunch. If you demonstrate a prolific degree of recycling knowledge (or a willingness to learn) you may win a cookie!
If you are interested in having a Recycling Genius visit your office or organization to give a quick waste sorting demonstration, please contact Cassie Hage at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in becoming a Recycling Genius yourself, you can sign up here to receive an alert when the next round of training is scheduled. Dining area outreach activities will be scheduled for the first weeks following the start of the spring semester.
Students designed and painted a three panel message created to remind their peers that sorting waste doesn’t have to be difficult! Just take a moment to read the signs and “sort it out!” We appreciate all those who stopped to chat and learn more about the issue as the message was being painted. Special thanks to Ruoyi Gan, Ingrid Archibald, and Auggie Mense for their work on this campaign.
Re-educating the campus community is a team effort that involves many stakeholders. Re-branding is an effort that takes time. We are grateful to all those who have contributed their creativity, experience, and resources to support this effort.