Recycling at Union College

 Be careful what you throw into the recycle bins. Check the sides of the bins for acceptable items. | PC: shutterfly.com

Be careful what you throw into the recycle bins. Check the sides of the bins for acceptable items. | PC: shutterfly.com

Reduce, reuse, and recycle. We’ve all heard the phrase a hundred times. But, this doesn’t mean we do something about it. To some, it might seem like too much work to “go green,” but in reality, it’s quite simple. Here are two ways students, staff, and faculty can help Union reduce its carbon footprint.

Use reusable water bottles:

At Union, there are currently nine water bottle filler stations. The first one was installed in the Dick Building in 2010 and since then they have been installed all over campus. While they’re seen by most as just an easy way to get water, these stations have actually reduced the consumption of over 360,000 plastic water bottles.

Since 300,000 is an abstract amount, here’s a quick visual: imagine a heap of disposed water bottles in place of the Thunderdome. Or, if the water bottles were stacked side-by-side in a row, it would stretch for 23 miles.

That’s over halfway from Union College to Omaha!

Recently, there have been requests from students for more water bottle filler stations on-campus. Although they're an environmentally-friendly choice, they are significantly more expensive than traditional water fountains.

Regular drinking fountains cost around $700, while the ELKAY brand fountain and filler stations cost $1200. Paul Jenks, director of plant services, says that Union is trying to include ELKAY stations with any new construction and renovations.

Senior graphic design major Daniel Daum really likes the stations, “They’re so much better than trying to fit my bottle in a drinking fountain or dorm sink.”

The most frequented stations are the ones in high traffic locations, such as the first floor of the Everett Dick Building, and outside of Union Market.

But others are hidden across campus. There’s a station in the lobby of Woods Auditorium and one hidden between the vending machines at the Larson Lifestyle Center. And the girls are familiar with the one at the foot of the stairs of Rees lobby.

By using a reusable water bottle, students and employees of Union can drastically help reduce the amount of discarded plastic water bottles.

Don’t throw it all in the trash:

While filling reusable water bottles is an easy way to reduce one’s carbon footprint, it's also easy to recycle on campus, thanks to '16 religion graduate Joe Hofmann. During his creative leadership class, one of the assignments was to create a citizen leadership project that could benefit the campus and community.

Hence, in 2013, Hofmann helped expand Union’s recycling program by applying for a grant to purchase indoor recycle bins. With the help of Dr. Linda Becker, then vice president of student services, Hofmann procured a $3,204 grant from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. The grant accompanied the free recycling service provided by Uribe Refuse Service. 
While the school is charged for any regular trash, all recycling is serviced for free.

Instead of requiring all recyclables to be sorted prior to collection, now the majority of recyclable items can be collected in the same container, a system called “single stream.” At the processing facilities high-tech machines sort the items using infrared scanners, compressed air and workers who remove contaminated items.

While the single stream process may be viewed as an incredible step towards saving the planet, there are some drawbacks. Since the bins encourage people to throw all recyclables in the same container, often non-recyclables end up mixed in, which can contaminate the entire bin.

Lori Brasuell, director of custodial, says oftentimes people will throw food items in the bins, which compromises the recyclable items. The custodial workers are then forced to throw all the content in the trash.

“Even though the bins clearly say no food,” says Lori, “We still find food and gum all the time. I think it’s just out of laziness.”

Also, styrofoam containers from the cafe can’t be recycled. Since they’re made from foam #6, they require a special processing facility. These containers also have to be rinsed out before they’re recycled.

Additionally, glass shouldn’t be placed in the recycling bins, because it breaks during the transportation process and contaminates the other recyclables. The shards of broken glass can also be hazardous to the custodial workers.

Union has made it easy to reduce and recycle. Between the water bottle filler stations, and the single stream recycling containers, all students and staff can easily contribute towards reducing waste on campus.


Autumn Mott is a sophomore studying communication.