Thursday, October 30, 2008

Recycling at Rhodes

Over the summer I attended a meeting at Rhodes and was struck by the fact that they had recycling bins seemingly everywhere. On Monday, I had the pleasure of meeting with Tracy Adkisson who is the Associate Director of the Physical Plant at Rhodes. Her office was filled with various recycling bins and as we talked, she made notes to herself on a "homemade" notepad that she fashioned from paper (used only on one side) from her paper bin and a plastic binder clip. I was impressed...and inspired!

Recycling is just part of Rhodes' overall effort to go green. Specifically, they have joined the Presidents Climate Commitment which is a coalition of colleges and universities dedicated to fighting global warming.

As a part of their commitment, Rhodes will articulate a plan to achieve carbon neutrality on campus. Their goal is to have the plan in place by Fall 2009. The first step in this process was for Rhodes to measure its carbon footprint. In doing so, they realized that there was an opportunity to expand their recycling program and make it more efficient.

Recycling bins have been on campus since I was a sophomore in the early 90s, but the program then was nowhere near as comprehensive as the program now. "We wanted to make it easy to recycle and difficult to contaminate the bins," Tracy says of their decision to put separate recycling bins for aluminum, plastic, & paper next to every trash can on campus. While this involved a large capital outlay on the front end, Tracy says it was never an expense they had to justify. "It's a sound investment that everyone was on board with."

Rhodes has developed a very tight system for their recycling program. There are 104 recycling stations throughout the campus with a total of 300 bins. All of the recycling bins are consistent in appearance and have lids. The Physical Plant has three work study positions for students to help with pick ups and monitoring. Each building has a volunteer recycling monitor who sends in an electronic request for pick up when the bins are 2/3 full. (This greatly reduced the time and effort involved in the work study students checking all of the bins on a regular basis.) There are staging areas for each product and different companies come and pick up the items weekly. (i.e. Weyerhauser picks up the paper, All Star picks up cardboard, Recycle Solutions picks up plastic, etc.)

Putting this system in place has made a huge difference to the program. It operates more efficiently and the electronic work orders allow the Physical Plant to collect data on what is being recycled and how often.

Faculty has also helped with the recycling program. Obviously Rhodes can't put a recycling bin in every classroom, but each professor lets their students know where the closest bins are and asks that they use them rather than the small trash cans in the classroom. It may seem like a small thing, but Adkisson says it has made a big difference.

Stay tuned for more insights from Rhodes...

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