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Solution Proposal

As a current student at Bemidji State University, I've started to notice that BSU students are not recycling as much as they should be, because it is inconvenient and they don't necessarily understand the process and its importance to the environment. "The EPA estimates that 75% of the American waste stream is recyclable, but we only recycle about 30% of it." (11 Ways To Recycle) To solve this problem, BSU needs to make it more convenient and increase awareness efforts in order to gain more student involvement. On average, a person generate over 4 pounds of trash per day and approximately 1.5 tons per year. BSU is a small campus compared to most other universities, but one and a half tons of waste per year, per person adds up quickly.

The problem that is becoming more and more common on our campus, is that students are uneducated about what to recycle, where to recycle, and how to recycle those products. We all know that college students are busy — but not busy enough to not have five minutes to recycle. Recycling on campus is considered to be an inconvenience to most because of the lack of containers to place recyclables. We need to put our focus on this problem because our minds begin to think that once a products waste no longer belongs to us, that item doesn't really exist anymore anywhere. Or so we think. This isn't true for the waste we produce. Once a product leaves our possession it doesn't just disappear. There's no magical black hole that our trash just gets sucked into and is gone forever into some unknown galaxy. It ends up in places that it shouldn't, like lakes, rivers, and streams. With campus being located right next door to Lake Bemidji, it's important that we know what to do with our trash to help keep the lake clean. With our natural resources slowly disappearing, we need to do everything we can to help protect what's closest to us.

The primary cause of this problem is simple. College students feel that they don't have the time or space to collect and dispose of recycling properly. Students also aren't fully aware of what can be recycled and where it can be recycled at. As a student who lives on campus, I know how inconvenient it is to have to recycle in the dorms. Its also a topic that is not very well taught or understood. For example, for a student who lives on campus, recycling containers are few and far between in the dorms. Either you save up all of your recyclables for the week or month, or every time you have something that can be recycled you walk around to find the nearest container. For me, the nearest receptacle is down the hall and in the kitchen. I find this a nuisance to have to constantly be walking back and forth from the kitchen when I have something that has the potential to be recycled. Education is an issue when it comes to knowing what can and what cannot be recycled. Think about this, have you ever went to class and had your professor spend the class period lecturing on what products can be recycled? I didn't think so. Recycling isn't like our ABC's or 123's. Its not something that is talked about often, and it's definitely not something that is taught on a daily basis. Education and convenience are key when it comes to recycling.

One excuse that students may try to use when talking about why they don't recycle is that they don't have enough time to participate in such activities. Not having time to do so contributes to the fact that recycling containers are not conveniently or strategically placed around campus. For example, I'm sure we have all had lunch at Lakeside before. Have you ever noticed that when you go to return your dishes that the recycling containers are full? And there are three of them. This is a huge problem. When I see a container that is full, I find the next closest container that has room in it for my things to be thrown away in. Whether that container is a garbage can or a recycling can, it doesn't matter and that time and place because I'm tired of holding onto my trash so I find the nearest container. I feel that many other students do the same judging by the contents of the garbage can compared to the full recycling container right next to it. While these containers are helpful, the need to have them emptied more often or made into larger containers is there.

A few different ideas on how to implement and promote recycling on campus have been thought of as well. One day for every month there would be a huge recycling "convention". Students could bring in their recyclables and have them placed into the proper containers. This isn't the best way that we can get recycling into the bigger picture on campus. Nobody is going to want to have to store their trash for an entire month just to haul it half way across campus to the recycling location to throw it away. The dorms simply just aren't large enough for this to happen.

Another thought was to charge students who don't recycle. Much like a speeding ticket or not wearing your seatbelt, if you were caught in the act of not recycling something that could have been recycled, you would be asked to pay a fine. This will not work either. College students are already suffering from financial burdens. There's no way that making them pay a fine would make them want to recycle more often. Students will just simply not pay them.

The last idea was to provide incentives for those who recycle regularly. This solution will not work because it will cost BSU more money than it has to spend. The solution to this evolving problem is to educate more and to make containers more convenient.

The solution to this problem is almost as simple as the reasons why the current situation isn't working out. Education and convenience. BSU needs to implicate more education in the classrooms and on campus about how to recycle properly. BSU has already implemented a "Bottled Water Ban" beginning next year. This will ban the sales of bottled water on campus. "Plastic water bottle recycling is of tremendous practical importance, as US sales of bottled water have grown rapidly, from around 20 billion bottles in 1997, to 36 billion in 2006, reaching 50 billion in 2008." (Viscusi, Joel, Bell) I feel that one day a month, a professor could take one class period, or half of one, to lecture on recycling and how its done. While there are posters and events already being held on campus to promote recycling, most students do not willingly participate or look at the promotional events. These lectures would not be known to the students on which days they are being held. An incentive such as a few extra credit points could be put into place to help keep students in class during this session. Students just are not fully aware of how important it is to recycle. There are many things that we think of that could be recycled but actually cannot be put into those specific containers.

The need for larger and more containers on campus is a huge deal. Containers that are fun, interactive, and that are simple to understand are almost necessary with the size of our campus. Project No Waste was a project designed by the Science Museum of Minnesota. Four bins, each with a different label, cans and bottles, mixed paper, compost, and trash, were set up around the museum to help individuals know which bin they're waste needed to go in. " Since our comprehensive waste management program Project No Waste launched in 2011, we increased our recycling rate from a mere 18% to 75%!" (Science Museum of Minnesota) Introducing containers like these to BSU could help increase the amount of trash we are recycling. Each year, Hagg Sauer has a waste audit conducted on the amount of trash people in just that building produce. The Sustainability office on campus is in charge of conducting the audit, digging through the trash themselves. The results below are from the waste audits since 2011.

Year Total Waste Collected (lbs) % of fiber that could have been recycled % containers that could have been recycled % non-recyclables (garbage)
2011 221.5 13.32% 8.13% 78.6 %
2012 339.3 11.1% 6.5% 82.5%
2013 288.6 6.3% 5.8% 87.9%
2014 328.9 11.2% 9.0% 79.7%

These containers also need to be emptied more often, or have larger containers installed. It doesn't look very appealing to repeatedly stack recyclables on top of the container because it is full. Most will resort to throwing these containers into the garbage can which is placed next to the recycling bins. This solution is the only one that will work. Why? Providing more in-depth learning opportunities and guidance along with strategically placing new containers gives BSU a less of an expense than with the previous mentioned solutions. Minimal upkeep will be needed with these two solutions. If during this minimal upkeep, the containers are kept in good working conditions, they will virtually never have to be replaced. This is better in the long run because its basically a one time expense versus an ongoing expense. Which in return, means that tuition prices won't have to be raised due to the fact of having those other solutions.

As one of the few campuses that are located on the shore of a lake, the importance of making sure we know where our trash is going is a huge deal. When we throw something away, it isn't disappearing. It's ending up in places that we don't want it to be going. By providing former, current, and future students at Bemidji State University, with the education they need to not only have a successful career but to also have a greater knowledge of how to recycle, we can make a difference. Making these disposal units become more available and easily accessible by all will greatly increase our chances of having more participation in the recycling world.

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