Posts tagged Nick Hennessy
By Kelsey Klein
Quick: what’s the most recent thing you’ve done for the environment? Chances are, you just thought that time two days ago when you tossed a plastic bottle or piece of paper into a recycling bin on your way out of class or after you were done eating. Recycling is incredibly visible at Bowling Green State University, so this isn’t surprising, but is recycling really the best thing BGSU can do to cut down on waste?
Recycling at BGSU started in the 1980s with a push from a few students in the environmental studies department, according to Gary Silverman, chair of the Department of the Environment and Sustainability at BGSU. These students recognized that recycling programs on BGSU’s campus could not only help the environment, but they could also save the university money.
Institutions must pay to leave waste at landfills. BGSU’s relationship with the Wood County Landfill is no exception. When materials are collected for recycling, less waste goes to the landfill, resulting in lower deposit fees for BGSU. As an added bonus, companies who break down and use BGSU’s recycled materials bay the university for its recycling. The university agreed to funnel some saved money from recycling back into the student run operation, and BGSU’s recycling program was born.
Today, BGSU’s recycling program is alive and well, with recycling bins in every campus building, according to Nicholas Hennessy, sustainability coordinator at BGSU. The university receives $100,00-$130,000 annually for recycling, Hennessy said.
Many buildings, such as residence halls, have multiple bins: for paper, plastic, and aluminum. One material is missing, though— glass.
Silverman explained recycling is driven by market factors—what materials are being used at the current time. At this time there is not a market for glass, leading BGSU to abandon glass recycling because the material is heavy and hard to manage, he said.
Hennessy disagreed with Silverman when asked about the recycled glass market. “I think that there is a demand for glass,” he said. “It’s just a matter of financials.”
Those financials include the high cost of transporting the heavy material in relation to the monetary value of the material. Administration at BGSU has not institutionalized glass recycling because the university would lose money, according to Hennessy.
Groups of students, however, are taking matters into their own hands. Volunteer students currently collect and take glass to the Bowling Green City Recycling Center, according to Hennessy, but this situation is not ideal. The volunteer system sometimes results in unfortunate situations, such as a story Hennessy told where he saw a group of students wheeling a recycling bin down the street in the rain. Because the volunteer system is not ideal, there is student movement to re-institute glass recycling at BGSU.
Janelle Horstman, who is leading a glass recycling effort through the BGSU student environmental group Net Impact, says she is working on finding glass recycling options that are cost efficient for the university. While the university is paid for recycled materials, BGSU can lose money from having to transport heavy glass to recycling sites, Horstman said. Institutionalization of glass recycling will require working out financial problems with the potential program.
Brooke Mason, Sustainability Chair for Net Impact, spoke about the importance of options other than recycling. “Recycling is the last R and I would promote reducing what you use and reusing it before recycling,” she said. Recycling a glass bottle is better than throwing it away, she said, but it would be even better to use a reusable container instead of individual bottles or reuse the glass bottle.
Hennessy believes the three “Rs”—reduce, reuse, recycle –are “in order of importance” as well. Reduction of waste is much better than creating waste that is then recycled, although recycling is better than waste ending up in a landfill, he said.
Silverman used a stapler to illustrate the same point. If a stapler breaks, what can be done with the materials? “Where did that metal come from,” Silverman said. “We had to mine it, we had to refine it, we had to use a lot of energy to manufacture it and now all these resources are in the trash. If we should recycle it, that’s better because at least we could recover the metal. If we could fix it and use it again, better yet.”
BGSU’s reStore is aimed at just that—reusing products. At the reStore, students can trade for things they need instead of buying new items. A shirt could be turned into a book. Shoes could become a DVD. A desk lamp could be traded for a backpack.
Hennessy developed the concept for the reStore after he saw the program at a few other universities. He was intrigued by the idea and enlisted the help of two BGSU students to make the reStore a reality. The reStore is located on the Kreischer Compton-Darrow side of the SunDial dining hall on campus.
The current intern with the reStore, Andrew Myers, pointed out how the reStore involves all three “Rs.” It reduces consumption because it encourages students to trade for used goods instead of buying new goods, it helps students reuse products that other students no longer want or need, and it contributes to recycling through students’ donations to the store, Myers said.
While BGSU is making steps in waste reduction like the reStore, Silverman and Hennessy both believe the university should be doing more to reduce its waste footprint.
“An institution has to decide what its role should be as a citizen,” Silverman said. “An institution can be a good citizen or it can be a not-good citizen. A not-good citizen is consumptive.”
Efforts to stem consumption can begin with university programs, or they can begin with students, but Hennessy believes sharing information about reduction is vital.
“It’s little by little,” he said. “One student learns about reuse and starts spreading the concept to a roommate, a friend… it spreads from person to person, one step at a time.”