Sustainability official suggests UWRF could do better with trash, recycling

Posted May 2, 2016

UW-River Falls has earned recognition for its sustainability practices in the past, but there has been talk on campus of improving the university’s trash and recycling program.

UWRF recently earned another silver STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System) award for its sustainability efforts, the fourth year in a row. However, Mark Klapatch, UWRF sustainability and custodial supervisor, would like to implement a student-funded effort to improve the university’s trash and recycling systems.

“There’s a lot I know we can be doing differently,” Klapatch said. The current trash and recycling receptacles on campus are a bit of a patchwork system — bins were bought as the university found funds for them and are very non-uniform — and though every building on campus has both recycling and trash receptacles, many are not labeled sufficiently and recyclable materials tend to end up in the trash.

“Ultimately, there’s a lot ending up in landfills that doesn’t have to,” Klapatch said.

Figures from the annual recycling report indicate that in 2015, the commingled recyclables — including metals, glass, plastics and paper — from UWRF totaled about 180 tons. This number did not include materials used in maintenance of buildings such as batteries, waste oil or light bulbs, all of which the university recycles. The amount of materials thrown into the trash in 2015 was over four times that — about 830 tons that would ultimately end up in a landfill, according to Klapatch.

Sarah Daggett is a senior field biology major at UWRF preparing to graduate this spring, and she practices a wide variety of methods that reduce the amount of waste materials she produces. She buys clothes at Goodwill, composts food waste, and even drives materials that aren’t recyclable in Wisconsin to other states where they are.

“If there was anything else I could do,” she said, “I would.”

Daggett echoed Klapatch’s words in that a lot of material that could be recycled often ends up in landfills.

“Everybody throws everything in the trash,” she said, “so I think the recycling could probably be improved.”

Increasing the ratio of recycling to trash receptacles is one change Daggett said she’d like to see: For every trash can, have a recycling bin right next to it so that students do not simply throw everything away. Klapatch made similar suggestions. One method he proposed involved removing trash cans from the classrooms entirely, and replacing them instead with receptacles in the hallways that are uniformly accompanied by recycling bins.

Labeling is another problem that both Daggett and Klapatch agree on. Oftentimes confusion as to what can and cannot be recycled prompts students to throw recyclable items in the trash, and part of Klapatch’s plan to renovate the waste management system at UWRF is to provide labels for each receptacle that clearly show what items go where. Daggett further suggested labeling the trash bins as “landfill” rather than “garbage” or “waste”, which would serve as a reminder of where things go after being thrown away.

This project and others related to sustainability would be funded through a “green fee,” a segregated fee of $8.75 per student per year that would be put towards a collective pool. Anyone like Klapatch wanting to start a project related to sustainability could write a grant and potentially be awarded funding from this pool.

Student Senate has not yet officially proposed the concept of the “green fee,” but if and when it does, the issue would be put up for a student vote.