Union College student spearheads campus recycling project

Union College students and employees can now help save the world, one plastic bottle at a time.

Union College recently received a $3,204 grant from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to buy indoor recycling containers. Beginning this week, the new wastebaskets will populate each floor and main office on campus, easing student and employee participation in the college’s recycling endeavors. “The part we can each play is to take our recycled garbage from our office to the bin in the hallway,” said Linda Becker, vice president for Student Services. “If we each do a little, we can make great strides toward a smaller ecological footprint for Union College.” The new bins will be emptied by custodians, leaving little extra effort for the rest of campus.

Written by Becker and Joe Hofmann, junior nursing major in the leadership program, the grant follows the college’s switch in December 2012 to a free recycling program with Uribe Refuse Service. The single-stream service is offered free to Union, meaning any item recycled saves the college money. “Basically all the recyclables, except for glass and Styrofoam, go in one container,” explained Hofmann. “When they go to the recycling plant everything goes on one conveyer belt and air is used to sort the materials by weight. So all the paper ends up in one spot, the cans in another etc. What this means for Union is that we only need one bin to put all of our recyclables in, saving time and hassle.” Glass is the only recyclable item that needs to be placed in a separate bag before being deposited in the receptacles.

Union throws away roughly 65 tons of trash each month, 45 tons of which is estimated to be recyclable. “This could be a major savings to the college and of great benefit to our planet,” said Becker. “Just a few steps can make a big difference.” 

Recycling efforts prior to the grant were scant and varied between departments. “I am not really sure what was going on before, but not every division was recycling,” said Hofmann. “We had a deal with a company to come and pick it up, but we had to pay them.”

While attempts to promote recycling on campus led to limited results in the past, Hofmann is confident that students and employees will pull together to make it successful. “Unlike before, this initiative is student led,” he said. “Going green greatly benefits the college and also connects us to the surrounding community. I’m determined to make sure recycling becomes an integral part of Union.”

The changes are a welcome improvement for many students. “It’s really good news to hear,” said Raschelle Casebier, senior graphic design major from the Northwest. “In Seattle you’re required to recycle, so I was surprised coming here that so few people did. I like what they’re doing it now and think it’s a good thing.”

“We have been put in charge of this earth and we can’t keep living as though stuff just disappears when we throw it away,” said Cid Coto, senior computing major. “It goes to a landfill and then most of it just sits there, piling up. As an academic institution we need to be at the forefront of teaching good habits. If we want to bring about change, it has to start here and it has to involve everyone.”

Hofmann became involved with the initiative in the fall of last year through his creative leadership class. “We were supposed to think of a citizen leadership project to benefit our community or others around us,” he said. “I chose recycling and thought I’d just make posters describing how people should do their part to help Union go green, but when I spoke with Dr. Becker she told me about the new partnership with Uribe. It’s taken off from there.”

Hofmann has been highly involved in the program’s development, from grant writing to speaking at faculty colloquium. “Being involved in this project has given me a better connection to Union and I definitely feel proud to be here,” he said. “If you have a vision, I would definitely recommend going for it, no matter how big or small. Union is a great place to let your dreams grow and impact others.”

The leadership minor helps students develop their personal leadership potential. Students who enroll in the minor take advantage of classes focused on leadership, peer mentoring, weekly meetings and internship opportunities. Click here to learn more.