Waste Reduction on Campus and Why It’s Not Happening

Every year, the University of Georgia generates enough waste to equal the size of the Eiffel Tower. That is more than 7,600 tons of waste that comes from paper, plastic, food waste, and more.

Of that waste, about 2,400 tons are recycled.  That is about only about 31 percent of the total waste.

Officials want to do more because of the massive amount of waste the University of Georgia  generates.  The University of Georgia hopes to reduce the amount of waste they send to landfills by 65 percent by the year 2020.  However, we are not close to this goal according to Kevin Kirsche, the Director at the Office of Sustainability.

This is the document of UGA Waste and Recycling Data from FY17 provided by Kevin Kirsche, the Director of the Office of Sustainability, and Cale Caudell of the Facilities Management Division. The document looks at multiple types of recycling, with most of the recycling coming from single stream recycling.  Single stream recycling means all different types of contents, like plastic and paper, are mixed together in one unit.

Even though people are recycling, the amount of waste outweighs the amount of recycling.  This poses the question: why are people on campus choosing not to recycle?

Professor Marianne Cramer of the College of Environment and Design said there were two potential ways that could help waste reduction on campus: education and physical placement of recycling bins.

“Education [about recycling] is a really important issue for the university to grapple with. What [students] learn about waste management and how they are connected to other species and the entire globe is important,” says Cramer.

This idea of education about recycling echoes results found in a survey conducted by Mackenzie Light, an intern with the Office of Sustainability.  The survey was not yet complete when the results were sent.  Light hopes to gather 500 responses, and this data includes 325 responses.

Based on the information about single stream recycling on the Office of Sustainability website and results from the survey, students are misguided about what they can and can’t recycle through single stream recycling. 

Graphic: Azure Aladin 2017. More information about what is recyclable at UGA can also be found on the Office of Sustainability website.

Based on the 325 responses, many students thought they could recycle film plastics, shredded paper, paper towels/napkins, Styrofoam cups, laboratory items, and food through single stream recycling.

 Results of specific questions are seen below.

Picture: Mackenzie Light, Office of Sustainability Intern
Picture: Mackenzie Light, Office of Sustainability Intern
Picture: Mackenzie Light, Office of Sustainability Intern
Picture: Mackenzie Light, Office of Sustainability Intern


Also in the same survey, 28.51 percent of the students said the main reason they don’t recycle is that they are unsure if the material is recyclable. 

Picture: Mackenzie Light, Office of Sustainability Intern

In addition to conducting a survey, Light is conducting focus groups to try and understand why people don’t recycle.  She shared the results from two of her focus groups.

“Primarily people think that incoming freshman should be educated on how to recycle.  Jittery Joe’s coffee cups are not recyclable but people do it anyways.  It is helpful to identify objects that students use a lot and educate them,” says Light.

Also, one of the things students mentioned in both focus groups was the idea of the convenience of recycling.

Cramer also spoke on the issue of convenience.  She believes where we place recycling bins could potentially have an impact.

“Staging areas outside buildings is a place where we should offer recycling.  [Also], right inside or right outside of every building.  Another place is where people slow down, stop, or wait, [like] the Bolton crosswalk,”  says Cramer.

This is the “staging area” in front of Jackson Street Building that Professor Cramer spoke about. Staging areas in front of buildings or directly inside building are the areas that could be ideal places for recycling bins.

Even though UGA might not hit the goal of 65 percent waste reduction by 2020, there are zero waste initiatives on campus.

Melissa Gurevitch, another intern at the Office of Sustainability, sent a list of zero waste initiatives the Office of Sustainability is working on this semester.  The initiatives include recycling in Tate, especially in the eating areas, and a lost and found water bottle reuse initiative, where certain buildings collect lost and found water bottles.

 Overall, there are waste initiatives on campus, but UGA still has a ways to go when it comes to reducing the overall amount of waste on campus and increasing recycling.

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