Recycling Counts: UNC Asheville Hosts Waste Audit for America Recycles Day

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Students volunteer for America Recycles Day
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Story by Karrigan Monk '18
Photographs by Emmanuel Figaro '18

A strange sight greeted students walking onto the Quad on the morning of Nov. 15. Where there is usually a clear space in front of Ramsey Library, dozens of trash bags sat, the result of 24 hours of life at UNC Asheville.

Jackie Hamstead, UNC Asheville’s environmental specialist, organized the event as part of America Recycles Day, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

UNC Asheville participates in the event by holding a waste audit on the Quad, which has occurred annually since fall 2015, when more than 1,707 pounds of trash was collected over the course of one day. This year, the campus produced 856 pounds of trash.

To conduct the waste audit, volunteers go through the collected trash on the Quad to separate what is actually trash and what could actually be recycled or composted. According to Hamstead, up to 90 percent of all campus waste is recyclable or compostable.

Moriah Martin, a freshman environmental studies student, said on a national level 75 percent of trash could be recycled but only 30 percent actually is.

Over the course of two hours, Hamstead and a group of student volunteers sorted through nearly 328 pounds of waste, finding that only 35 percent of it was actually trash while the rest should have been recycled or composted.

Since the first event in 2015, the amount of trash on campus has been reduced by nearly half as a result of the introduction of recycling and compost bins around campus. Eco-representatives in residence halls also assist in cutting down the amount of trash so what can be recycled or composted is put in the appropriate bin.

In total, Hamstead said, about 68 percent of the total amount of waste coming out of campus buildings is diverted to recycling or composting.

Nathan Lasala, a senior biology student, works for the Student Environmental Center and participated in the waste audit. He said the importance of the event is more widespread than just campus waste.

“Landfills don’t go anywhere and eventually we’re just going to run out of room,” Lasala said. “Besides the pollution they cause, if organic material goes into landfills, it breaks down and produces methane and other flammable gasses which can be pretty dangerous.”

While students like Lasala are concerned about the long-term effects of not disposing of waste properly, others like freshman environmental studies student Paul Ruback participate in the event simply because they enjoy it.

“I really love our environment and I’ll do anything to help it,” Ruback said. “I think this is so much fun doing stuff like this.”

Ruback also shared a little known recycling tip: even though cardboard pasta boxes are recyclable, the plastic on the boxes that allows the customer to see the product is not and must be torn off before the box can be recycled. Ruback spent a lot of the waste audit doing just this to ensure that everything that could be recycled was.

Although this may seem like a tedious and boring task, Ruback said he did not mind.

Martin agrees with Ruback and said recycling needs to be done in order to protect the environment for future generations.

“We’re trying to bridge the gap,” Martin said. “Basically what we’re doing is trying to bring awareness and consciousness to recycling.”

For more information about current sustainability efforts on campus, visit the Student Environmental Center website.