By Cormac Quinn
[email protected]

Let’s talk about recycling. The results of a survey distributed on our campuses by student initiative at the end of last semester illustrate two interconnected points: the majority of students surveyed don’t often know how to recycle correctly, and our understanding of recycling tends to be limited to environmental considerations.

Part of the survey was a quiz which asked students to select the items they thought were recyclable out of four Sexton items and a Gary’s Pizza box. The survey incited conversations between students; some of whom wanted to “phone a friend” for help on the quiz, the few who did know which items should be recycled were instilled with a sense of pride, while their friend embarrassingly admitted to not recycling at all. The results from the quiz proved disheartening, with only 16 percent of students getting a perfect score.

The most interesting part of the survey was students’ reactions after they completed the quiz; many students chose to continue the conversation about recycling instead of immediately walking away. Conversations about recycling promote a sustainable culture on campus by increasing knowledge and awareness. But, conversations could be more productive.

The survey last semester concluded with an open-ended question that asked, “Why do you recycle?” We found that students’ view of recycling tends to be extremely narrow, centered on environmentalism. When, in actuality, there are many more reasons to recycle, such as economics, energy independence and our national security.

Employment is a major concern in our economy, and recycling creates jobs. According to the National Resources Defense Council, waste collection and landfill disposal create less than one job per 1,000 tons managed, while the collection, processing, and manufacturing of recycled materials creates 6-13 jobs per 1,000 tons, depending on the material. The modern commingled recycling system that we have at CSB/SJU is made possible by workers down the line, who divide the recyclables into their respective components. The recycled material is then redistributed and reformed for industrial purposes before it reenters the marketplace as new goods such as cardboard packaging, fleece jackets or bike parts, where it continues to fuel our capitalist and consumer-driven economy.

In particular, recycling plastic, a near-ubiquitous item in today’s world, can have global effects. As a petroleum-based product, plastic production requires oil to synthesize original material. By recycling plastic, we reduce our dependence on foreign oil imports by keeping what we’ve already bought in circulation, bolstering our national security.

These under-discussed benefits of recycling are just a few launching points for a new type of conversation you could have with your peers about why recycling is important.

As a community of students, we have a responsibility to help each other. We need to be able to give each other some “tough love.” With the majority of
students unable to correctly recycle five items they are bound to see often, it’s clear we need each other’s help. If you see someone recycling incorrectly, or not recycling at all, be brave enough to lend a helping hand.

This is the opinion of Cormac Quinn, SJU junior