An overflowing recycling bin outside Pantzer Hall.

With the start of a new academic year comes a lot of people. With people comes a lot of waste. With waste comes a lot of work for UM’s recycling crew. Yet, many people don’t know the ins and outs of what happens with their recycled waste after they drop it in one of the assortment of blue bins around campus. 

In the last academic year, 320,000 pounds of materials were recycled through UM’s recycling program, according to its annual report. This means that on average, each student paid for more than 30 pounds through their $6 semesterly recycling fee. This is no small contribution, but Industrial Materials Coordinator Derek Kanwischer said it’s also important to know the ways each individual can help support the program. 

Kanwischer is one of two full-time coordinators that deal with recycling, alongside a couple of part-time student employees. Beyond its core responsibilities, the staff has to thoroughly sort through every single bin so that nonrecyclables don’t find their way in. UM could lose its contract with Republic Services, a company that actually does the recycling, if they send them nonrecyclables too many times. If this happens, the recycling program could be lost altogether.

Common items that often get recycled but shouldn’t include nonplastic milk cartons, napkins, plastic grocery bags, coffee cups and spiral bound notebooks. Kanwischer refers to this as “wishful recycling.” New signage, with clear instructions on what goes in each bin, is going up this week (tentative) and there’s a recycling guide on the University’s website, Kanwischer said.

“We really need students and faculty and staff, everyone, to follow those signs and do a really good job of making sure just those items go in those bins,” Kanwischer said. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, recycling saves energy, prevents pollution and conserves natural resources. However, Sustainability Coordinator Eva Rocke said people spend too much time thinking about just recycling. 

“Have we really considered reducing our consumption of certain products or reusing certain things?” Rocke said, referring to the other two R's in the three R's trio: reduce, reuse, recycle. “Those are actually much more impactful. Then, you’re not thinking of materials being waste at all, which is great.”