The light blue bags hidden behind the desks of the Student Commons at Union go to waste almost as often as the recyclable materials that could fill them.
Although several recycling initiatives were put in place in the past year, including trayless dining, plastic to-go boxes and free recycling bags for students, most are unaware of the program.
“I thought they were (just) green bags,” Austin Gray, junior music major said.
Gray, a transfer student from Bethel University in Mckenzie, experienced a recycling program there that did work and has questioned recycling at Union.
“I think its unfortunate that we say we are in love with God’s creation and yet we don’t go out of our way to take care of it,” Gray said. “We have the opportunity with these bags, we just have to want to.”
Rachel Robbins, junior music and psychology major, also thinks Union’s recycling program should be improved.
“Recycling is not very big where I am from, and a lot of people feel like it is a waste of time and energy,” Robbins said. “I think it is important to take care of this planet because God entrusted us with it, and I wish I knew more about how to take care of it.”
At Bethel, students pay 50 cents for a to-go box at each meal if they want one to go, Gray said.
“That could be a good incentive for us, too,” Gray said.“If there were larger incentives within the city, or within our campus, people would do it.”
Anna Beard, a junior advertising major who transferred to Union in fall 2012 from Bob Jones University, said recycling efforts were more prominent on that campus.
Each dorm room and faculty member was provided a blue bin for recycling items that a resident advisor would pick up at the end of each week, Beard said.
“I think the biggest thing for Union recycling is that it is simply inconvenient,” Beard said.“Although they have bins in the buildings, you have to hunt down the correct recycling bin that may not be on the same floor. Typically, in between classes, I do not have time to find the right bin, so I just throw it in the trash instead.”
For Madelyn Carson, junior education major and resident advisor, the students are essential to keeping the recycling effort alive.
“For a while, they were doing more of a good job trying to make it a big deal,” Carson said. “Students are the ones who push the blue bags, and it is not working. I think people are trying, but they haven’t found a solution yet.”
Some students choose to get the bags, take them back to their dorm rooms, fill them with recyclable materials and finally place them under the stairs of their residence complex.
Although most students know that recycling is an option offered at Union, the desire to follow through appears to be waning,
“We put materials that can be recycled into a blue bag that go under the stairs of our building, and that is the extent of my knowledge on our program,” Robbins said. “I think it could be improved by awareness, since most students don’t know much about it.”
An Environmental Stewardship Coordinator position was created and filled by Union alumnus Cari Phillips in August 2012, a position designed to promote environmental initiatives such as recycling and “going green.”
Phillips said the position was cut March 1 due to a lack of funding.
During her tenure, a to-go box system was put in place at the Lexington Inn. A reusable to-go box was given to each student, which they were to return to the Lexington Inn after each use.
Students either lost the to-go boxes or never took them back, Lexington Inn employees said, so Styrofoam boxes are back in use. It takes more than 1 million years for Styrofoam to decompose.
“I don’t think the lack of green living has anything to do with us being Union students; I think it has to do with being American,” Gray said. “We don’t see taking care of the planet as a priority.”
Beard agrees, adding that inconvenience also contributes to the issue.
“I do think that being American is part of the problem, because as Americans we are used to things being convenient and accessible for us,” Beard said. “So when something is not easily accessible, we are more inclined to not participate. This could be the problem with Union’s recycling, in particular.”
The university’s recycling program does have a Facebook page, UU Recycling, but only nine people have “liked” it. Phillips also created a sustainability group, which reached 38 members.
“Cutting funding for this program was probably the worst decision we could have made,” Beard said. “Now, the program will be even less successful at increasing awareness for recycling.”