Going green with blue bins: NU steps up recycling, and so can you

    Northwestern recycles 27 percent of its waste, but there’s still a long way to go. Graphic by Aubrey Blanche/NBN.

    There’s something new at Northwestern, and it’s not just the people in the purple ‘12 shirts who still smile at strangers on the sidewalk. This year marks a new era of recycling at Northwestern: Gone are the days when you could only recycle two types of plastic and corrugated cardboard, or when there were no blue bins for your Coke bottle at the football game. Northwestern recently expanded its recycling program to include plastics one through five and aseptic packaging, according to Julie Cahillane, manager of refuse and recycling at Northwestern.

    For those of you that don’t speak recycle, that means anything from yogurt cups to six-pack rings to juice boxes, and now cereal boxes, can be placed in recycling bins, found in every dorm room. Plus, these neat recycling-bins-plus-trash-can units are making an appearance in Tech, the library and other buildings, so you have no excuse not to walk the extra 10 feet to recycle that can. The football stadium and tailgating lots now have recycling bins as well.

    NU Recycling is a branch of facilities management that focuses on recycling and Northwestern’s environmental impact. According to Cahillane, campus recycling has been in place since the early 1990s. Her office works to improve recycling across campus and collaborates with student groups to put on events like Earth Day and the Green Cup competition.

    Northwestern’s award-winning recycling program recycles about 1,500 tons each year. Even though that may sound like a lot, it’s only about 26-27 percent of Northwestern’s total waste stream, which means yes, it really does matter if you throw out that flyer someone forced you to take by the Rock. Each item you recycle makes a big difference: For example, recycling one aluminum can is equivalent to the power it takes to watch three episodes of The Office on your TV, according to NU Recycling’s Web site.

    Recycling one aluminum can is equivalent to the power it takes to watch three episodes of The Office.

    So why the push for a greener Northwestern now? According to Mike Mitchell, executive director of the Illinois Recycling Association, college students are a “captive audience” that “insists on having good recycling programs available to them.” The increased number of outdoor recycling bins and GREEN House both blossomed largely from student ideas, Cahillane acknowledged. Changing environmental attitudes throughout the country and the world also play a role: With Obama and McCain arguing over renewable energy sources, and a mountain of plastic trash growing in the Pacific Ocean, colleges across the nation can’t help but take notice.

    Another incentive to recycle at Northwestern is the annual Green Cup competition. Each year, dorms compete to see which can save the most energy, and the competition can get intense. “People have gotten pretty into it — from not showering to, I don’t even know,” said Weinberg sophomore Emily Wright, co-chair of Students for Ecological and Environmental Development (SEED). In addition to Green Cup, SEED hosts several programs throughout the year to “inspire sustainable ways of living and working to improve our planet and people’s relations with the planet,” Wright said.

    Besides joining SEED and putting the blue recycling bins to good use, there are a few other things you can do to go above and beyond in your quest to save Mother Earth. Check out the list below for tips that fit your skill level (or your level of laziness).

    The Obvious

    1. Print on both sides of the paper! Think of how many Sudoku puzzles you can fit on the other side of that 50-page Lit reading.
    2. Take shorter showers. They’re dark and gross, so why spend more time in them than absolutely necessary?
    3. Don’t throw trash in the recycling bins. According to McCormick junior Steve Pflaum, site leader of Northwestern’s off-campus recycling program, the collectors will throw everything from the bin in the trash if it gets “contaminated.”
    Reuse water-bottles as flower vases. Photo by Tracy Fuad / NBN.

    The Creative

    1. You know those plastic water bottles you collect from studying at the library? Put them to good use when you get back to your dorm room by stuffing them with flowers to brighten things up.
    2. Better yet, don’t buy plastic bottles — go for a metal one. I promise you’ll look way cool toting it around.
    3. Bring your own bags for your groceries when you venture to Whole Foods like Wright does. You’ll blend right in with the organic food-buying crowd.
    4. Northwestern gives out free wrapping paper. Yes, you heard right: The dining halls are stocked with newspapers, so take a few and wrap up your roommate’s birthday gift the eco-friendly way.

    The Tree Hugger

    The next set of tips are from Stephanie Fraser, a Canadian recycling enthusiast who made her own bed from filing cabinets and a door when she was in college. And if these aren’t enough, she has tons more on her blog.

    1. Turn an old t-shirt into a cute grocery bag, Martha Stewart-style.
    2. Decorate egg cartons and use them to store beads, paper clips, rings, or all the stamps your parents gave you because they thought they had a chance of hearing from you.
    3. Join freecycle.org, and you can get/give all kinds of items for free. You post what you have or what you are looking for, and someone in your area responds. It’s that simple. Join the Evanston group here.
    4. Instead of just recycling, buy products that have already been recycled. If you have a laptop bag made from toothpaste and detergent bottles, you automatically win any environmental argument.

    Remember whatever you do, “you shouldn’t feel like you have to do it. It should be a fun thing,” Fraser says. “You end up spending very little [when you reuse] and the benefits you reap are amazing. You are not the problem anymore, you are the solution.”

    Put these tips to good use, amuse yourself while doing it, and most importantly, don’t forget which writer to thank when your dorm wins Green Cup.


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