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The Maneater reports on recycling, but recycling misses the point

This is an opinion article by Footprint’s editor, and it does not necessarily reflect the views of Sustain Mizzou as an organization.

“We want to see more.” That’s the driving idea in The Maneater’s recent editorial, “One-third isn’t enough,” about recycling efforts at the University of Missouri. It arrived in tandem with an article titled “Black, gold and green: MU recycling efforts pay off.”

But here’s the real problem: we spend too much time talking about recycling and not enough time analyzing our waste.

Recycling gives easy numbers; MU Sustainability is happy to advertise their gains. However, campuses with stellar recycling don’t necessarily have the best resource management.

We spend too much time talking about recycling and not enough time analyzing our waste.

Look inside a paper bin at Ellis Library. Powerpoint slides printed full-page, or maybe three-to-a-page, forgotten in the printer. E-mails with dates that could have easily been written in a notebook. Articles from the internet with all the comments and advertisements printed at the bottom, taking up multiple pages of the print job.

Look inside a beverage bin in a residence hall. Hundreds of individual plastic bottles, made from oil, used once and discarded. Residents could have filled reusable bottles with water from drinking fountains or their own sinks. They could buy a liter or Coke and use reusable cups each time they want a sip. Sometimes on-campus events are culprits, when organizations hand out water bottles instead of using coolers.

The list goes on. I’m not calling to shut down all printers or to halt the sale of every plastic bottle. I’m saying, wouldn’t it help if we were all more mindful? Remember, recycling is the third ‘R’ in the Reduce – Reuse – Recycle phrase. If we paid more attention to the first two, we wouldn’t have as much problem with the third.

Wouldn’t it help if we were all more mindful?

It’s awesome that our university’s newspaper is paying attention to recycling. The article is lengthy and thoughtful, had a spread in the Homecoming Centennial publication, and spent time on the scrolling features of The Maneater’s website. I love that the editorial encourages more aggressive measures to rein in our recyclables.

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A screenshot from The Maneater's website on October 16 shows its recycling feature.

However, if The Maneater suggests better education, they could do their part and publish solutions. To address just some of the issues brought up, there are RecyclINK bins at dozens of locations on campus, nearly every grocery store in town collects plastic bags and there are plenty of permanent recycling bins on campus if apartments aren’t doing it.

The editorial also says that “seeing the community in need is a great motivator” for action, and I absolutely agree. No, the Midwest doesn’t have smog or dying polar bears. We do have a bunch of trash. Why not go out and photograph our city’s landfill or the bottles, cans and tires clogging Hinkson Creek?

Some points in the article allude to deeper problems on campus than recycling. Steve Burdic, the MU Sustainability coordinator is quoted saying, “Custodians don’t help much on recycling due to budget constraints. We are trying to find ways to save them time so they can get more involved.”

Why aren’t the custodians of campus buildings doing their part to recycle? They say they’re strapped for resources, but I’ve pulled my share of bins at home games for TTR, and even if a dozen bins were in every campus building, it shouldn’t take more than an hour or two each week to tend them. Money made from those efforts could help pay for the labor. If Mizzou really can’t afford that in their budget, we have some serious issues.

In 2003 Sustain Mizzou helped catalyze a campus-wide recycling effort by collecting  signatures and working with MSA to get a recycling coordinator.

A University of Washington facilities department spokesperson said that their efforts started with a sit-in on campus in 1970. Last year, the article reports, UW diverted 62% of its waste from landfills. MU started, slowly, with ResLife in 1998. In 2003 Sustain Mizzou helped catalyze a campus-wide recycling effort by collecting  signatures and working with MSA to get a recycling coordinator. The Maneater missed that part, but that’s ok. The point is, time isn’t on our side, but we also have excellent models such as UW from which we can learn better practices. It shouldn’t take us thirty years to catch up because other universities have already found what works.

So how much learning are we actually doing? What is MU’s vision for recycling, and what can students do to help make those goals reality? I want to see numbers. How much does a recycling bin cost, and how long would it take to pay for itself? What is UW’s recycling-bin-to-student ratio, and what is ours? These are questions The Maneater or Footprint can answer, and I intend to get a reporter on it soon. Please help by weighing in on your personal vexations. What should be done to push forward with waste and recycling at MU?

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