Some IU students say they want to be educated more on the specifics of recycling in order to ensure their methods are effective.
Nov. 15 was annual National Recycling Day, a day where recycling is celebrated all across the United States. IU’s campus does have many recycling bins in dining halls throughout, but some students say they wonder whether the ways we are recycling are correct or truly effective.
IU sophomore Francesca Sacco is optimistic about the idea of recycling on campus.
“Recycling is a great thing for the planet because with recycling, the products can be reused,” Sacco said. “I think it’s good to recycle because it leaves less waste on the earth.”
IU freshman Raina Patel thinks that IU could provide more recycling opportunities.
“I think that there needs to be more ways for people to recycle,” Patel said. “For example, when walking outside, there are often only trash cans and no recycling areas.”
Sacco said she is sometimes confused on what belongs in the landfill or recycling bin.
“At times, I am unsure what is able to be recycled or composted and what is not, so I do find myself hoping for the best and guessing if something can be recycled or composted,” Sacco said. “I think there should be more guidelines of where everything goes.”
Anisa Valenzuela is a sustainability specialist at SustainIU. She said SustainIU is aware of students’ confusion on whether certain things can be recycled or not.
“In the realm of waste, there isn’t a quick magic solution, and we know the challenges in this arena, but we are working one step at a time to improve IU’s sustainable materials management,” Valenzuela said. “In 2020, we worked with IU Studios to develop a unified waste signage brand that we deployed in academic and administrative buildings while classes were being held virtually, and we will soon be bringing the new signage to dining and residential spaces.”
According to SustainIU’s website, recycling bins are often filled with items that can’t be recycled, so that bin is deemed contaminated and can cause difficulty for a recycling processor. Sustain IU’s Resource Use + Recycling webpage contains specific guidelines for what belongs in the recycling and what doesn’t, while also providing progress indicators about IU’s success in this area.
Sustain IU’s guidelines say there are several common mistakes that occur with recycling. One frequent mistake people make is often not making sure items are empty, clean and dry. Additionally, if someone is unsure if an item can be recycled, they can put it in the landfill bin, to minimize the contamination risk of that recycling bin. You can also view a full list of common contaminants that can find their way into recycling bins including food scraps, plastic bags and wrappers, styrofoam, electronics and batteries, and more on Sustain IU’s webpage.
Dr. Suzannah Evans Comfort, who has worked with Sustain IU, is an assistant professor of journalism who conducts research on environmental messaging in the news media. Comfort said students should take advantage of the many learning opportunities available on social media to educate themselves about the importance of recycling.
“I think you have to meet your target audience where they are,” Comfort said. “Right now, TikTok is probably the most popular social media site for college students. So I'd pay attention to how students are using the app and think of ways that we could tailor environmental messages to them.”
Valenzuela believes that many IU students are passionate about sustainability and that IU offers several opportunities to get involved and learn more.
“So many of our students care about sustainability and there are many avenues for expressing that interest, from taking classes, to attending lectures, to doing research, to interning with Sustain IU, to participating in student organizations related to sustainability,” Valenzuela said.
Valenzuela said students who want more educational resources about recycling can follow the SustainIU Instagram and subscribe to their monthly newsletter.