Sustainability club monitors campus' recycling and composting efforts

By M.B.S. Gabriel

Kyle Lichtenberg, president of Students for Sustainability, composts items in the green house.

Photo by M.B.S. Gabriel
Kyle Lichtenberg, president of Students for Sustainability,
composts items in the greenhouse.

UW-Fox students are not composting as often as they should, the Students for Sustainability (SFS) club found during their February audit.

The audit was conducted Feb. 17-18.

“On Monday the 17th we made sure all the garbage cans were at zero,” Kyle Lichtenberg, president of Students for Sustainability, said.

“At the end of the day [Tuesday] we went through and took out all the different trash cans, recycle cans, and compost bins and brought them back to the green house. We dumped it all out onto tarps on the floor and separated it all and weighed it to see how much we accumulated in 24 hours,” Lichtenberg said.

A total of 74.5 pounds of trash, paper, plastic and compost were collected over the 24 hour period.

“We collected all the bins from the main hallways. We could have gone into the offices, but we were more interested in the general garbage the students were creating,” Lichtenberg said.

After tallying up the weight of each bin, the members then sorted the items, finding many items in the wrong containers.

After calculating the trash, paper, plastic, and compost, the items were bagged up and put into the hallway as a display to show what a day’s worth of trash looks like on campus.

According to a flyer posted on one of those trash bags, 82 percent of all compostables, thrown out daily by students, ends up in the trash bin.

This is an alarming find.

“It was eye opening for us [SFS] since we are the environmentalists on campus and maybe we were a little more optimistic before going into the trash audit. Since we are aware of the compost bins and the garden out back, we make assumptions that more people are aware of it,” Lichtenberg said.

However, some students on campus found these statistics less surprising.

“It’s sad but I’m not surprised at all,” sophomore Kate Austin, said.

“I’m not surprised at how little is composted. I don’t think a lot of people know what to compost. I recycle regularly, I’m confident in my recycling, but not in my composting,” freshman Paige Van Handel, said.

According to the audit, many students are throwing away items that could be composted.

Paper recycling was spot on. The audit found 100 percent of the 12.5 pounds of recyclable paper were, in fact, paper.

“I don’t recycle or compost regularly. At home, I have one dumpster for all waste, at school I just don’t. I honestly could care less,” Austin said.

“The trash audit was a starting point. The game plan is that towards the end of the semester we’ll try to do this one more time to see if there is any change in any of the numbers. Ideally, things will be thrown away in the right places and trash and plastic will go down,” Lichtenberg said.

“One of the ideas is to make new signs for the compost bins. Ones that are more easily read and comprehendible in a short amount of time,” Lichtenberg continued.

These may be helpful considering many students do not understand what can and cannot be composted.

“If I had more information on composting I would likely compost more often,” Van Handel said.

However, some feel differently.

“I’ve seen the signs, but I don’t read them, I don’t have time to,” Austin said.

Sadly, many of the plans on what to do with the trash audit information are still up in the air.

“There have been a lot of other things going on in the [SFS] club and this hasn’t been a primary focus, but it should be because we want to reduce these numbers,” Lichtenberg said.

Lichtenberg also fears that the club may not continue with the audits next semester.

“It’s hard to get people together to actually do this. The Monday night to get the bins to zero, there was only three of us [from the SFS club]. To go through all the garbage it kind of frustrated us that more people weren’t helping. There were 10 people the next day, which was better.”

There is also the issue of who will take over these roles next semester. Both the president and vice president of the club will not be returning to UW-Fox in the fall.

“The club will likely have a drop in numbers next semester because a lot of us are either graduating or moving on to somewhere else.”

Besides the lack of composting, the amount of trash was higher than expected at 27.5 pounds, which was made up of many single use food containers.

The number of plastic bottles was also high, more than 110 plastic bottles in 24 hours.

“We advocate people using reusable containers,” Lichtenberg said.

“I have a water bottle I bring, but I don’t use reusable food containers,” Van Handel said.

Paper recycling was spot on. The audit found 100 percent of the 12.5 pounds of recyclable paper were, in fact, paper.

If you would like more information on the trash audit or to join the SFS, meetings are held on Fridays at noon in the botany room.