Individual and institutional awareness power growing UAH recycling effort

Taylor Myers
UAH sustainability coordinator Taylor Myers holds a new poster that illustrates UAH’s recycling efforts.
Michael Mercier | UAH

The entire campus community is powering The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) recycling program as it continues to evolve and grow, involving everything from individual decisions about aluminum drink cans and paper products to institutional efforts with bulk commodities like electronic waste, metal and cooking oil.

"It is absolutely a team effort. Virtually every department and every person who steps foot on UAH’s campus has a role to play," says Taylor Myers, UAH’s sustainability coordinator. "It begins with a conscious decision to recycle. All of us can choose to make that decision."

At UAH, the effort is successful because it is very broad, Myers says, and it takes the support of many individuals to make it work.

"My role includes ensuring the UAH community is aware of the recycling programs offered, as well as supporting the growth and development of these programs," he says. 

Awareness and influence are important factors in establishing and growing a recycling culture on campus, Myers says. "I am interested in seeing a culture change at UAH where recycling is expected and a part of our community life," he says. "How do you do this? Communicating a clear purpose and goals is a start."

This fall, the Sustainability Program that Myers oversees as part of the Office of Facilities and Operations will hold a series of gatherings with students, faculty, staff, administration and community stakeholders to gain alignment around a common purpose and goals for the sustainability program at UAH.

"I really believe this year is going to be a foundational year for the sustainability program at UAH," he says.

Beyond individual recycling efforts, UAH’s Facilities and Operations staff, led by Associate Vice President Mark Cowherd, is heavily involved in institutional recycling efforts, Myers says. Departments and organizations involved include Custodial Services, Grounds Management, Housing & Greek Life’s Food Services and the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, all working to minimize the university’s impact on landfills.

The institutional efforts are quantified on a new poster that illustrates just how much UAH is saving from permanent disposal. Excluding individual single-stream recycling, institutionally in 2016 UAH kept 172,441 pounds of material from permanent landfill disposal.

That figure includes 50,020 pounds of steel; 36,310 pounds of books; 35,760 pounds of cardboard; 26,155 pounds of electronic waste; 11,332 pounds of kitchen oil; 7,433 pounds of universal waste, which at UAH is largely comprised of discarded commercial products like used fluorescent tubes, mercury lighting and associated ballasts, and mercury containing thermostats; 3,812 pounds of motor oil; and 1,619 pounds of batteries.

Cardboard is collected for recycling in the loading dock areas at all buildings on campus. As needed, Grounds Management collects and delivers the cardboard for recycling.

Similarly, the grounds department handles all bulk metal recycling on campus. Don Thompson in Central Receiving handles the electronic waste and makes sure that UAH recycles as much of it as possible.

Kristy Olive in Environmental Health and Safety coordinates universal waste collection. UAH Food Services recycles used kitchen oil to a company that processes and refines it for further use.

Campus book recycling efforts are evolving, Myers says.

"While it is definitely a positive that our books are recycled and not going to our landfills, it is unfortunate that they become pulp for various other paper products," he says. "Currently, we are working to make it possible to recycle books within the ‘book ecosystem’ by partnering with an organization that will offer them to low-income students and underfunded institutions."

The matrix underlying UAH’s individual recycling efforts is a single stream program originally started by a student in Frank Franz Hall in 2010 that eventually spread throughout housing. Single stream recycling was established campus-wide in 2015.

"This program is the centerpiece for recycling efforts on campus," Myers says. "The wonderful thing about it is its versatility and how easy it makes recycling. In general, paper products, aluminum and plastics such as bottles can be placed in the bin with confidence that they will be sorted and recycled appropriately by our vendor." 

Myers says the custodial staff is "the hands and feet" of the operation, and credits the UAH administration for providing $30,000 for Green Fund projects in 2016. The money supports student sustainability projects and helps to pay for campus-wide single-stream recycling.

"I think it is important that the UAH administration get credit here because it is easy to support sustainability initiatives that save money but often times, when these efforts require additional funding, support is hard to find," he says. "Essentially, this funding allows us to have the single-stream recycling option throughout campus."

To ensure that recycling on campus is as easy and accessible as possible, UAH pays for recycling services.

"Recycling at UAH isn’t about making money," Myers says. "It is about doing what’s right."

In a recycling-related move, UAH has installed water bottle refilling stations in several campus locations, with more planned.

"The water bottle refill stations provide the UAH community a way to access cold, filtered water without having to buy bottled water," Myers says. "Beyond the negative health effects of drinking plastic bottled water, the amount of waste generated from consuming such a product should concern everyone who calls this planet home."

It takes an average of 450 years for plastic beverage bottles to decompose, he says.

"With millions entering our landfills everyday, we must ask how long we can do this to ourselves? We are blessed to live in an area of the world where we have access to safe, affordable tap water. Using a refillable water bottle is a simple act that shows foresight, prudence, and respect. Not to mention, it saves you money."


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