SGA president Trenton White recently announced a new campus-wide recycling initiative that will be in full swing by fall 2011 and could come into effect as early as May.
Under the new plan, recycling bins for aluminum, paper and plastic products will be positioned across campus within easy reach of students, White said. The bins will be black in color and feature the Mercer logo as a way for them to fit in with the aesthetic feel of campus as a whole.
The units cost several thousand dollars each, but are made to last and will not need to be replaced for at least 10 years, White said. Five bins will be located by the dormitory dumpsters.
To prevent contamination –– a problem that has been common in past on-campus recycling efforts –– the units will feature different slots appropriately sized for different recyclables. The bins are designed for outdoor use and can withstand a variety of weather conditions.
The plan will also include a public education component meant to increase student awareness about the importance of recycling in their everyday lives, White said.
Both SGA and Physical Plant have amended their budgets to support the program. Student interest has made the program a reality.
White said he hopes the new recycling plan will help position Mercer as a leading regional institution in the area of environmental sustainability. More high school students are looking at green efforts when applying to colleges, and White said he thinks having a program like this will encourage more students to apply to Mercer.
“We want this university to be on the forefront of recycling efforts. Compared to other schools, we haven’t always had the most comprehensive recycling strategies. But we’ve worked with what we had, and now we’re finally moving in the right direction,” White said.
White said that what sets the new initiative apart from other previously short-lived recycling programs on campus is that the new initiative includes broad-based support from the university administration, which will help make it more viable long-term by allowing existing university departments and infrastructure to help out in the process.
“Virtually everyone from the president to the dean, down to anyone in the administration, is in support of this plan. Many students have been passionate about this issue and led strong efforts in the past, but now we finally have everyone on board,” White said.
Katie Martin is the president of the Students for Environmental Action, the organization that has been tasked by SGA this academic year with helping to draft the new initiative. Martin said she’s excited about the prospects of the new recycling plan as a way to make Mercer a more environmentally friendly campus.
“We’re creating a lot of trash on campus, so it will be better in the long run for it to go to other facilities to be recycled,” Martin said.
SGA brought the plan directly to President Underwood, who agreed to move it forward and figure out the best way to bring recycling to students.
A problem that has been faced in the past was trying to find a company to buy the recyclables, especially in the recent struggling economy.
National, Mercer’s on-campus facility maintenance company, will collect the recyclables and take them to Physical Plant, which has large, separate trash bins for the products. Macon Iron will then come pick up the bins and take their contents to be recycled.
Macon Iron does charge a fee, but Mercer will earn some money back from the recyclables.
“Thinking long term, you pay to have your garbage taken to the landfill, so even if we’re not making money from recyclables, if we’re not paying more than the tipping fee for the landfill we’re still coming out ahead,” said Dr. Heather Bowman-Cutway, the SEA advisor and Mercer biology professor who will be overseeing the initiative.
The program will begin next fall, but Cutway said that as soon as the bins are in place. there is no reason to delay the process. Physical Plant is ready to begin and National understands its duty in the program.
Because recycling will not be a mandatory program, students will be required to provide their own dorm room recycling bins––for example, a cardboard box––and then take it outside to the bins to be organized.
While the most immediate push is to place the units as soon as possible, Cutway said that another goal is to place recycling bins inside campus buildings.
“The other place we want recycling offered is in academic buildings, particularly those which already have a vending machine area. That’s just a natural location to have recycling,” Bowman-Cutway said.
While the program will focus mainly on plastic, aluminum and paper, some days will be dedicated to recycling different materials. Last year, cardboard was recycled on Move-In Day and one huge dumpster was entirely filled with cardboard.
Faculty and staff have been working together and with the students to make the program work. Russell Vullo of Physical Plant has helped out in the process, Cutway said.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Cutway said. “I’m glad we’re finally getting up and running because it’s the right thing to do.
Cluster staff writer Carl V. Lewis contributed to this report.