Recycling rates showing mixed results
March 11, 2019
As of the most recent Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) report published February 21, 2018 by Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), UW-River Falls officially earned its first gold STARS rating. This was the result of a campus effort toward the betterment of the environment.
As outlined by the 2017 STARS Executive Summary, the total generated waste from UWRF decreased by about 5 percent between the years 2014 and 2017. The average amount of waste diminished by about 53 tons overall.
Custodial Supervisor Mark Klapatch is also member of the Office of Sustainability at UWRF. Klapatch provided additional data in reference to the overall recycling rate on campus over the past few years. According to annual measurements compiled by Klapatch, the recycling rate at UWRF in the year 2017 was about 24 percent, yet decreased to about 22 percent in 2018.
Klapatch stated that the rate here at UWRF is significantly lower than both local and national numbers. The national average for recycling of 34 percent. In Wisconsin, the average is 36 percent, and the Minnesota average of 40 percent.
According to a study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "34.3 percent of the 254.1 million tons of municipal solid waste generated in 2013 was recovered through recycling or composting." In a similar study the EPA conducted two years later, about 26 percent municipal solid waste was recycled in the United States, whereas about 9 percent were being composted. This totals about 35 percent of generated waste either recycled or composted.
In this same study, the most recent composting rate for UWRF is reportedly above the U.S. average, standing at about 25 percent over the national figure of about 9 percent, a difference of nearly 16 percentage points. The EPA does, however, include a "total other wastes" category, and marks the U.S. average at about 30 percent of additional waste being composted, nearly five percentage points greater than UWRF.
UWRF placed 140 out of 205 universities across the U.S. who participated in the 2018 RecycleMania competition, a program created in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation in order to raise awareness about the importance of waste reduction. Over a time frame of seven weeks, the campus contributed roughly 49,242 pounds (24.621 tons) of recycled material, good for the 45th worst net contribution in the event.
When recycling rates across UWRF do not improve from year to year or decrease significantly, Klapatch expresses concern for the health of the campus -- both ecologically, as well as financially. According to Klapatch, when asked about the potential impacts on campus when recycling rates drop, he stated, "The most substantial concern is that more items are going to landfills. Landfills are filling up and the costs of disposing of items is going to skyrocket."
Efforts to repurpose waste at UWRF over the previous number of years has been very successful overall. As outlined by the STARS Executive Report, the ability to maintain these high marks has been "accomplished through recycling, composting, the Surplus Property Program, the end of the year 'Don't Throw It, Donate It' move out program, repurposing items to campus, and donations to nonprofit organizations."
In terms of improving recycling throughout the campus, Klapatch voiced his approval of the Office of Sustainability. "Making sure we provide a good infrastructure of bins, especially bin location, is critical. We have made huge strides in the academic buildings in the past 5 years by relocating bins from classrooms to hallways, going to side by side trash and recycling containers, and adding better signage."
To increase student awareness across UWRF, Klapatch recommended that students follow the UW-River Falls Sustainability on Facebook or follow up with their office for more resources. To stay up to date with new research and statistics, Klapatch encourages students to visit the Recycling page on the UWRF website.
In his concluding remarks, Klapatch points to students as the 'agents of change' in improving recycling rates across campus."The Office of Sustainability depends on student volunteers. We need to find better ways to get information out to campus and to make it a part of our campus culture. This information really expands beyond recycling and should really include reducing consumption, energy efficiency, water conservations, etcetera." However, Klapatch does admit consistently doing so can be challenging, as integrating these mindsets into campus culture can be tough when positions and funding are both limited.