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Student misunderstanding impedes MU sustainability

By Jenna Tiller
On February 18, 2014

An increasing number of compostable and recyclable plastics labeled "Greenware" or "EcoProducts," are circulating around campus, such as Traders Greens salad bowls and the plastic cups used in Maplestreet Station. In fact, according to the Housing and Dining Services, almost all of the materials they utilize are engineered to minimize landfill waste.

This is because they can be disposed of alongside traditional food waste in the form of compost, or recycled with bottles, paper, and cans. Miami's current method of disposal of these plastics is recycling, but these they are more often found in garbage cans than recycling bins as a result of student misunderstanding; people simply are not accustomed to thinking of plastic containers and takeout boxes as recyclable.

Miami University's Housing and Dining Services, in conjunction with student groups on campus, has been making strides towards achieving a sustainable campus since 2008 when the first compostable plastics and the now-widely used cardboard take-out boxes were purchased.

According to Jon Brubacher, the Director of Procurement and Food Purchasing, the decision was a big commitment because in 2008, compostable plastics cost about twice as much as their non-compostable counterparts. Even now, Housing and Dining is paying roughly 20 percent more than they would if they were to use traditional plastic, Brubacher said. Dividends, which opened in 2009, was the first facility to use only compostable materials.

"From that point on," Brubacher said, "there was no more plastic being bought on a large scale."

The Miami University Sustainability Commitments and Goals, which outlines Miami's goals to be an environmentally sustainable campus published in 2011, validated that they were "on the right track."

Once the decision was made to purchase these plastics, the next issue became how to dispose of them. According to the Director of Sustainability and Energy Conservation Yvette Kline, a lot of thought was put into how to best tackle this problem. The conclusion was that recycling was the best and easiest option, especially since the recycling system was revamped this year to accept all recyclable materials together instead of requiring them to be sorted.

Now, Kline's task is to educate students on where they should be putting their waste. Kline said her current strategy is to label trashcans and recycling bins as clearly as possible, but she thinks the system needs improvements. Many of the new plastics, especially the salad bowls, are difficult to represent on a sign, so the University is still struggling with how to better communicate with students.

Although Miami has taken great strides towards sustainability on campus, ultimately the responsibility falls to the Miami community to dispose of their waste properly. To help aid with this issue, Kline says about 70 outdoor recycling bins will be added to match the trash cans so recycling is easier and more accessible for students. Still, Kline thinks there is a lot of work left to do.

"Not enough [recyclable materials] are getting where they need to be," Kline said.

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