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April 14, 2011

Blair improves recycling initiatives

by Srividya Murthy, Print Managing News Editor
Student members of the Green Club are currently collaborating with building service workers to reduce recycling contamination, an issue highlighted by this year's School Energy and Recycling Team (SERT) inspection. Recycling contamination occurs when trash is mixed with recycling and damages the recycling, causing Blair's recycling to be discarded with trash, according to SERT's recycling manager, Richard Benjamin.

According to a 2010-2011 report by SERT, Blair's cumulative recycling rate for this year to date is 23.7 percent, with 3.12 tons of commingled recycling (containing bottles and cans) and 18.84 tons of paper and cardboard recycling. Benjamin says that there were flaws in Blair's recycling system that reduced the amount of overall recycling. He identified problems with awareness and accessibility of recycling containers at Blair as the primary causes of increased contamination. "The amount of recyclables in trash observed was really high," he said.

This semester, members of the Green Club have started work to reduce recycling contamination by separating recyclable and non-recyclable materials in trash, according to Green Club president, senior Nissi Chilkamari. Based on the Green Club's first cleanup of recycled materials, Chilkamari estimates that about 30 to 45 percent of Blair's recycling is contaminated, with most contamination on the first floor of the building.

According to Green Club sponsor Karen Shilling, one misplaced trash item in a recycling bin is enough to contaminate the entire container, causing all contents to be thrown away rather than recycled. Separating contaminated from uncontaminated recycling involves tedious work, said building service manager Yak Agbonselobho. He hopes that students will make the process easier for the Green Club by demonstrating more awareness. "We need everyone's cooperation," he said.

In response to the SERT report and after a visit from SERT recycling technician John Meyer on Feb. 17, Green Club has taken action to improve the recycling system at Blair. Members have labeled trash and recycling bins with stickers to make a clearer distinction between the two containers. Green Club ordered more paper recycling bins and commingled recycling bins for bottles and cans.

According to Agbonselobho, trashcans and recycling bins are now in all hallways and classrooms of the building and are more accessible to students. Following SERT's recommendations, the Green Club has also created "centralized stations," which are paired recycling cans and trash cans throughout the school so that students will not need to walk farther to recycle. In addition, according to Agbonselobho, previously blue trash cans have been removed and replaced with gray containers for trash only, distinguishing them from the blue containers for recyclable cans and bottles.

According to Shilling, the Green Club has also ordered large recycling containers with lids only wide enough to fit paper, preventing students and teachers from trying to insert trash items into paper recycling bins. However, Agbonselobho says that these lids are not protective enough. "People take off the lids and throw coffee cups in recycling bins," he said. "[Containers with] edibles should not be allowed in the recycling bins."

According to Benjamin, Blair also incorrectly recycled items in plastic trash bags, which are non-recyclable. Blair building service members have adopted a new method in which they use trash bags only to collect recycling materials, so that the recycling can be protected from damage. At the loading dock, workers then unload the trash bag but do not recycle the trash bag itself, said Agbonselobho.

Shilling believes that Blair's recycling program is successful overall and has made good progress, but she hopes for improvement. "For the most part, we're good, but we have a long way to go," she said. "We are good in energy savings, but need to do a lot better in recycling."



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  • Srividya Murthy on June 10, 2011 at 12:38 PM
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