A campus-wide recycling initiative launched at Monmouth College in 2009 has exceeded projections and is just one way that the college is becoming a better global citizen, according to physical plant director Earl Wilfong.
The college is keeping nearly 200 tons of recyclables per year out of the landfill by ramping up its efforts to separate paper, glass and plastic containers. That contrasts with just 18 or 19 tons of recycled material per year prior to 2009, Wilfong reported.
“It actually costs us more to do the recycling this way, but it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “We’re doing a lot better than we used to when it comes to recycling.”
When the college applied for and received a $28,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO) four years ago, it projected that adding nearly 2,000 recycling receptacles would allow for approximately 100 tons of materials to be diverted from the landfill each year. However, the college nearly doubled that estimate last year, recycling nearly 192 tons.
The new bins were placed in all academic buildings, beneath every office desk, in every residence hall room and at major collection points in high-traffic areas. Previously, the academic buildings had very few bins.
“These individual bins have definitely helped bring up our numbers,” said Wilfong. “They say it takes 21 days to develop a habit, and I think much of the campus has now done that. I know that if I’m drinking a can of pop, and I don’t finish it, I don’t just throw it away. Now I take it to the sink, wash it out and recycle it. It feels wrong now to just throw it in with the regular garbage.”
Not only does the college recycle but, says Wilfong, “We dual stream, which a lot of places don’t do. It’s the right way to do it.”
By separating mixed paper into one bin, and all containers in another, dual-stream recycling helps resolve some of the drawbacks of single-stream recycling, such as contamination of materials, loss of potentially recyclable materials and the non-recyclable residuals requiring disposal after sorting. Single-stream recycling also requires labor-intensive or equipment-intensive sorting processes.
Recycling isn’t the only way that Monmouth College is reducing its global footprint. A few weeks ago, the college was named to the Presidents Honor Roll for Community Service. One of the initiatives that led to that honor was MC’s Educational Garden project. Started in 2010 with assistance from a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, the initiative enables local schools and community organizations to learn about and participate in sustainable agriculture. Students live in the Garden House – some even during the summer – subsisting primarily on the fresh produce they grow in the garden and food that they preserve for winter consumption. Numerous sustainable gardening techniques are employed in their work.
“We do quite a bit more in the areas of sustainability initiatives and environmentally-friendly processes than we thought we did,” said associate dean Bren Tooley, who directs MC’s grant program.
Tooley was charged with rounding up such data for the Princeton Review and other college guides, which are now asking those questions. Other examples of sustainability, she said, include the “Green Initiatives” courses in MC’s Citizenship requirement, trayless dining in the main dining hall and research and volunteerism at the college’s LeSeur Nature Preserve. There are also three transportation initiatives – the Scots Shuttle, the purchase of hybrid vehicles for the campus fleet and a new bike-share program.
“Those Scots Cruisers are always booked when the weather allows,” Tooley said of the free beach-cruiser bicycles.
Students in the “Green Initiatives” courses engage in research and community service related to environmental preservations and restoration and sustainability.
And it was students in another Citizenship course – “Building Communities” – who helped drive the recycling push on campus several years ago, Wilfong recalled.