By Elyse Pitkin
Recently, Hiram College introduced a pilot waste diversion program on campus where the community is encouraged to make a small effort in removing specific items from the waste stream. Currently, there are collection bins outside of each residence hall collecting cardboard, paper, plastic grocery bags, and metal cans.
“This project is intended to be as much educational as it is operational,” said Sustainability Coordinator Zachary Fox ’21. “Each bin has signage that explains why this program is in place and how it relates to students. By encouraging them to sort their waste, we hope to help them realize what waste they might be producing in excess or unnecessarily, or what they might be able to reuse on their own.”
Recycling initiatives are often cited as one of the best sustainability practices, however, there have been growing complications with its implementations. According to an article by NPR that quotes data taken from a study by Greenpeace, it finds that the “amount of plastic actually turned into new things has fallen to new lows of around five percent” and that the vast majority of our waste is “headed to landfills.”
“Because it is a complex global system, many factors like economic viability, industrial capacity, international trade, and contamination are at play that prevents much of what we put in the recycling bins from actually being recycled,” said Fox. “Even when they are recycled, the process relies on heavy transportation, high energy costs, and toxic byproducts. By recycling on campus, we are ensuring that our waste is used and reducing environmental costs of recycling to nearly zero.”
Fox feels encouraged by the pilot waste diversion program at Hiram, as much of what is collected on campus will be reused and redistributed once student volunteers from the Sustainable Development Committee sorts through the material at the TREE House. “These students put a lot of work in each week on existing projects, and they’re still working on implementing other projects like a certified Arboretum,” said Fox. Paper and plastic bags will be reused at the potential thrift store opportunity campus is working toward, paper and cardboard will be shredded and composted along with the dining hall food waste that is already collected, and metal cans will be directly taken to a nearby metal collection facility to ensure that it is not contaminated. “Even though we focus a lot on waste management, recycling and composting are not able to prevent the pre-consumer harms of food and material production. If we really want to be sustainable, we need to reduce our consumption of these items in the first place. After all, the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra is set up in that order for a reason,” said Fox
Hiram College has always continued to strive for greener initiatives, and Fox has noticed the number of students interested in sustainability and the natural world, increasing. “The events I run on campus and at the Field Stations have been filled with students of all majors and interests. Sustainability is very important to this generation, and students want to learn and do what they can to make the world a better place while they’re at Hiram,” said Fox. As a recent graduate, Fox finds students relate and connect with him and most of his programs are geared toward what students are learning in their classes. He said, “I know exactly what they are going through and what they expect from their education.”
Future sustainable opportunities on campus include a solar installation workshop that Hiram College will host, along with Blue Rock Station. Students, faculty, staff, and community members will take an intensive class on solar installation either this spring or next fall, earn a certification, and help design and install a solar array at the TREE House in 2024. For those interested in learning more about his workshop or participating, contact Zachary Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org