News | Student Life

Groups look to expand recycling efforts

  • OM NOM NOM | A biodigester that breaks down food waste has been installed at Barnard in the tunnels beneath Hewitt Dining Hall.

At both Barnard and Columbia, student environmental groups are exploring less conventional ways to reduce the schools’ landfill waste.

Rose Winer, CC ’13 and the head of Columbia EcoReps’ living green committee, said that the group is working with fraternities and sororities to develop the new Green Your Greek project.

“We’re thinking right now it might be fun to have a competition between the frats, and the sororities in turn have requested that we come to their weekly meeting and do a brief educational program,” Winer said.

CU EcoReps also has plans to organize a number of other initiatives to increase the general student body’s awareness of recycling. In general, the group wants to “put the idea of recycling more in front of the students’ eyes ... to make it more convenient for them to recycle, and to make it more part of their daily routine,” Winer said.

One year ago, Barnard launched its Sustainable Initiatives Consulting Board to take over Barnard EcoReps’ role as a liaison between students and the administration. Since then, it has begun a zero-waste initiative, designed by members of the committee.

The project also includes an effort to find a way for students to recycle plastic bags. As a first step, the SICB is planning an Earth Day event this year where students can exchange plastic bags for a reusable tote.

“We’re looking into long-term options and also shorter-term options,” Deborah Robertson, BC ’13 and chair of the SICB, said.

But these recycling efforts are only the latest of examples of Barnard’s efforts to create a greener campus.

Barnard employs a private contractor called Action Carting that has facilities to process all seven types of recyclable plastic, and it provides readily accessible bins for unusual items—books, batteries, e-waste, and lightbulbs—in the Quad, the 600s, and Plimpton Hall.

When Barnard started using a private contractor for trash pickup in the mid-2000s, recycling wasn’t the determining factor in the decision. The school switched to Action Carting because the municipal system was unpredictable and its pickups were often late, leading to a buildup of trash on Claremont Avenue, according to Julio Vazquez, director of Barnard Facilities.

“You have residents who live on Claremont Avenue, you have students, you have young children who are walking up and down the street in front of those mounds of garbage that have been put out,” Vazquez said. “You can imagine how it is during the warm weather to have the trash sitting out there, waiting to picked up, with Sanitation coming whenever it is they come.”

But Vazquez said that Action Carting’s recycling service was an appealing bonus.

“That’s one of the prime benefits,” Vazquez said. “It’s kind of one-stop shopping for garbage pickup.”

Students involved with Barnard’s green efforts also spoke positively about Action Carting’s services.

“It’s not like anything else in New York,” Caroline Moore, BC ’15 and a member of Barnard EcoReps, said of Action Carting’s services. “It’s everything, basically. That’s the best I’ve seen.”

Zoe Schein, BC ’13, describes herself as an obsessive recycler, and said that she is pleased with the scope of Barnard’s facilities.

“I’m from Vermont, and it’s a very eco-minded community, so it’s definitely something I prioritize,” she said. “It’s really nice because they have [e-waste] stations set up in all our dorms, so that you don’t even have to leave your building to recycle the right way.”

On both sides of Broadway, composting has also become an important component of students’ sustainability efforts.

Barnard operates both a biodigester, which breaks down and compresses the food waste from Hewitt Dining Hall, and a compost tumbler, where students can contribute food scraps from their dorms.
However, the tumbler’s location—sandwiched between Lehman Library and Altschul Hall—means that many students aren’t aware of its existence.

Isabel Nelson, BC ’16, composted regularly at home in Olympia, Wash., but didn’t find out about Barnard’s compost tumbler until after it had closed for the winter.

“I think it’s a great idea, and it definitely could be publicized a little more,” she said.

More recently, the Barnard composters have been joined by a Columbia counterpart, the A500 Rocket, which was installed in Ruggles Hall last April.

The Rocket uses more sophisticated technology and can churn out more compost than Barnard’s tumbler, but access is still limited to Columbia EcoReps and GreenBorough, the sustainable living special interest community.

“I’ve always been very impressed by Barnard’s system,” Schein said. “I give tours of campus, and I point out to people that, clearly, we have these values, we always have the recycling next to the trash. And I think parents and visitors are very impressed by that.”

abigail.golden@columbiaspectator.com | @ColumbiaSpec

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