Montana State University could be recycling more, and if it did it would save money, according to a group of MSU students and Facilities Services staff members.
With the help of several staff members, students in a business management course studied the university's trash and found that more than 30 percent of items that are thrown away on campus could be recycled. Further, if all eligible items were recycled rather than being sent to the landfill, MSU would save more than $16,000 annually in landfill tipping fees.
"Recycling these materials just makes sense," said MSU Environmental Services Manager E.J. Hook, who helped with the project. "The university would save money, but we would also be reducing our carbon footprint. It's the right thing to do."
In a draft version of the university's Climate Action Plan, the university has proposed a goal of cutting waste by 25 percent by the year 2020. It would take every student, faculty and staff member at MSU recycling seven sheets of paper, one plastic bottle and half of a can every day to meet that goal, according to Hook and Gretchen Hooker, director of the ASMSU Sustainability Center. They estimate those efforts would divert 1,200,000 pounds from the landfill by the end of one year and, at current market rates, that the university could earn more than $60,000 annually from sales of recyclable materials. Recycling income is used to offset operational costs.
The university's recycling program, which is operated by the ASMSU Sustainability Center, has grown in recent years. It was started with a pilot project in the fall of 2008 and has more than doubled in size from 2009 to 2011, according to Hooker. The program currently diverts approximately nine percent of campus waste.
ASMSU provides recycling stations in nearly every building on campus and provides containers for recycling at athletic and special events. Working together, ASMSU, Facilities Services and Residence Life also recycled nearly five tons of cardboard materials that were generated during Move-In Day at the beginning of the semester. And last semester, Renne Library recycled more than 4,000 pounds of microfiche.
"These efforts are significant and represent real progress, but we need the participation of all Bobcats to help us continue the upward trend toward the campus's 2020 goal," Hooker said.
MSU is one of the largest single landfill contributors in the valley and generates more than 4 million pounds of trash annually, Hook said. He added that waste reduction and recycling efforts play an important role in extending the usable life of the county landfill and reducing related greenhouse gas emissions.
Hook urged MSU students, faculty and staff to try to recycle more. If every individual made an effort to recycle, the effect would be significant, he said.
"The good news is that we could make a real difference by changing our habits just a little bit," he said. "If we all work together, we would see a big change."
Hooker noted that recycling during the academic year is off to a good start.
From July-December 2011, the amount of waste MSU disposed of in the landfill was down nearly 150,000 pounds from July-December 2010. At the same time, nearly 30,000 more pounds had been recycled.
"These numbers reflect efforts campus-wide, so all of us share in the continued progress of reducing waste," Hooker said. "We would like to build on the momentum from last semester this year, and we encourage everyone to join in these efforts."
Recycling containers are located at or near the main entrance of nearly every building on campus and can be recognized by their blue lids. Office paper and cardboard dumpsters are located outside in the service entrances of most buildings. For more information on recycling on campus, contact the ASMSU Sustainability Center at 994-6873 or ASMSUsustain@montana.edu.