Montana State University

Student-led recycling program at MSU to receive award for pollution prevention

February 17, 2011 -- Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service


Since MSU students voted in 2008 to fund sustainability initiatives, recycling at the university has grown from a small, disjointed recycling program to an organized, campus-wide effort. The ASMSU Sustainability Center will receive a Montana EcoStar Award for campus recycling efforts during a Feb. 22 ceremony at the Montana Capitol. From left to right, students involved with the center are: Colleen Thurston, Sean Bannon, Alex Chapin, Beth Schmiesing, Aaron Watson, Brian Ronan and Sustainability Center Director Gretchen Hooker. MSU News photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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Since Montana State University students voted in 2008 to fund sustainability initiatives, recycling at the university has grown from a small, disjointed program recycling mainly paper to an organized, campus-wide effort that recycles a much larger variety of items. The ASMSU Sustainability Center, the group in charge of the recycling program, will receive a Montana EcoStar Award for campus recycling efforts from Governor Brian Schweitzer and MSU Extension during a Feb. 22 ceremony at the Montana Capitol.

"This is an honor for ASMSU and the entire student body for getting the recycling program going," said Gretchen Hooker, director of the Associated Students of Montana State University Sustainability Center. "It demonstrates viability for having an even more comprehensive recycling program on campus."

The Ecostar Award is given annually to Montana businesses, non-profit organizations, schools and other entities that have made a significant improvement in protecting Montana's environment. Efforts that may be recognized include pollution prevention; environmentally sound product design and energy use; manufacturing, distributing, selling or using recovered materials; or providing education related to protecting Montana's environment.

The ASMSU Sustainability Center's award for pollution prevention was given for reducing the amount of solid waste from MSU that is taken to a landfill. In 2010 alone, about 235,000 pounds of waste was recycled at MSU, according to the group's award application. That amounts to approximately the same weight as a Boeing 757-200 airplane loaded with several hundred people. By avoiding dumping fees and reselling the recycled materials, the recycling resulted in a net savings of nearly $7,000.

Recycling at MSU has grown significantly in just a few short years. Efforts received a big boost in the fall of 2008, when students voted to impose a fee on themselves to fund recycling and other sustainability programs.

"ASMSU recognized that there was a need for more convenient recycling services in order to increase participation in recycling," Hooker said.

Previously, recycling on campus was limited mostly to office paper. Volunteers collected the materials to be recycled, and there were fewer collection sites. And, recycling at MSU was dependent, in large part, on the dedication of individual students, Hooker said. Programs went through cycles, she said, based on when dedicated students graduated.

Since the student fee was imposed in January 2009, the ASMSU Sustainability Center has introduced new collection sites, with 41 buildings and about 400 bins now part of the program. A handful of student employees are paid to collect the recyclables, hitting each collection site about once a week. Paper (including white and most colors), cardboard, plastics #1 through 7, newsprint (including catalogs and phone books), and aluminum and steel cans are materials that may now be recycled at MSU. Recycling is not available for Styrofoam, some plastics, glass and fluorescent paper.

The most recent analysis for fiscal year 2010 shows that the diversion rate - or what is recycled instead of taken to the landfill -- is about six percent.

"The dump truck goes once a day to the Logan landfill, if not more, but if we could cut out some of those trips by recycling more, we could really deliver greater savings to the campus," Hooker said.

In the future, the group would like to raise awareness of the importance of recycling and increase the percentage of waste that is recycled.

"Fifty percent (diversion) would be a great goal to set, but it will take significant evolution in the program to get there," Hooker said.

Hooker added that the group would like to increase its partnership with Facilities Services to create a program that is more efficient.

E.J. Hook, environmental services manager for Facilities Services, agrees there may be an opportunity for a strong partnership.

"I think we're going in a good direction, and there is a continued opportunity to work together to be significantly better and more efficient," Hook said.

MSU's Director of Facilities Operation and Maintenance Jeff Butler said ASMSU is doing a great job with the recycling program.

"Facilities Services has never been funded for recycling, but we support ASMSUS's efforts however we can without affecting our maintenance budgets," Butler said.

Continuing to expand the university's recycling program will lead to good things, said several MSU students who work on sustainability initiatives.

"MSU is a community, and I think it's important to be aware of how you affect that community," said Colleen Thurston, a graduate student in science and natural history filmmaking who works in the Sustainability Center office. "Making a few small changes - like recycling a little bit more -- will affect everyone positively."

Sean Bannon, a senior in mechanical engineering who also works at the Sustainability Center, said that ASMSU's student-initiated and student-led recycling program can motivate people to act.

"The recycling program is a great way...to get people thinking about sustainability," Bannon said. "Hopefully, current students will leave MSU with the sense that recycling at home or at work is entirely within reach."

Contact: Gretchen Hooker, greenasmsu@montana.edu or (406) 994-6873