15 April 2008

Stories of the (Green) Revolution

You might think going through the trash is a little unusual, but for Dr. Jeff Brown, professor of biology, it’s all part of a day’s work. “If you point out to a student that they’ve thrown away a plastic bottle, when there’s a recycling bin right there, they’ll apologize, but they won’t get the bottle back out,” he tells me, on a break from collecting the recycling before it goes out one Friday morning. “But I will,” he adds.

Anyone who has ever struggled to get a recycling program off the ground knows that sometimes it takes extremes like pulling plastic bottles out of the trash to set an example and get people thinking about recycling. “Fundamentally most people think it’s a reasonable thing to do,” Dr. Brown explains, “the economics make sense.” But that doesn’t mean everyone is automatically on board. “It has to be convenient,” he points out. Decisions such as the placement of recycling bins, as well as the design, color, and labeling all factor into the likelihood of student and faculty participation.

Washington College’s current recycling program depends on the initiative of building occupants to take recycling to the curb for Kent County to pick up on Tuesdays and Fridays. Only the Shred-It bins are picked up by the company. While this works reasonably well for most of the dorms, it is more difficult in academic buildings unless a particular staff member takes the responsibility of going from hall to hall collecting recyclables. In Toll, where faculty have taken an active role in getting the job done, they recycle several tons of cardboard each year, in addition to having more green bins out on the curb than any other academic building.

The success of the recycling program in Toll is largely due to Dr. Brown’s own efforts. Every week he can be found bringing recycling down to the curb with the help of a cart purchased specifically for the purpose. Faculty and staff in the building are also on board, collecting recycling under their desks and breaking down boxes. Tri Beta, the biology honor society, contributes by taking turns collecting recycling in the building. Institutional support is slow in coming, but Dr. Brown is confident it will happen in the near future. Recycling is not an insurmountable challenge, if approached properly. If it were written into further building plans to allow for recycling areas and uniform bins, with consideration given to the materials recycled in Kent County, many issues would be solved at the outset.

Dr. Brown’s advice to students on getting involved is to take action locally. “People don’t think individual actions are significant, but multiply those and it does make a huge impact. Recycling is something everyone can participate in,” he says, as are actions like turning out lights and not using water. In his own office, a file cabinet and his official robes block the path to the light switch. If it’s harder to get to, he knows he will be much more likely to think twice before turning on the light. Most actions, including recycling, are largely a matter of changing habits to reflect more responsible practices.

You, too, can make a significant difference to help the environment. All it takes is a little creativity, and a healthy dose of dedication- because as Dr. Brown has proved in Toll, every little bit helps.

Learn more about recycling at WC.

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