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Sep 22, 2018
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Sarah Gilbert / The Collegian

In just six years, the City of Fresno has taken its fledgling recycle program, reworked its practices and is now ranked number one, tied with Huntington Beach, for the highest solid waste diversion rate among California’s largest cities.

Unfortunately, Fresno State has yet to be part of that success.

Recycling on campus began in the 1980s with the school track team. Since then, Fresno State has come a long way with the installation of a solar panel-parking structure and recycle bins placed outside each building on campus.

But factors like vandalism, skimpy budgets and what the university calls a lack of effort by students have disrupted campus recycling.

Fresno State has its own student-run recycling club, which was started by its former president, Jennifer Fortel, in 2004. In a recent interview published in the Fresno State magazine, Fortel said her goal was to get the dorms on campus up-to-date with current recycle practices. She told the magazine that she began this task with six small donated bins and then used the money they received from recycling the goods collected to purchase more containers. In a year, Fortel said they had enough bins to recycle plastic, cans, glass and paper in all the dorms.

Briana McDonald, the club’s current president, believes the success of the dorm recycling system is making it as easy as possible for the dorm residents.

“The bins are placed on each floor of the dorms because it is more convenient,” McDonald told The Collegian. “The purpose of the club is to make recycling more accessible.”

McDonald said that the small changes in bin location have encouraged people to participate. They are the widely recognized recycle color of blue, placed next to the garbage and clearly marked for recyclables. The club also holds meetings at the dorms to make themselves more visible and spread awareness.

Unfortunately, the bins are expensive. According to McDonald, it takes the club years to save money to buy one bin. They have chosen to upgrade the bins, which are more expensive, because the smaller, cheaper bins were being stolen.

“They cost more, but we want students to realize that this is serious and it should be taken seriously,” McDonald said.

Campus efforts struggle

The university has also attempted to get students involved in a productive green campus by installing recycle bins all over campus. The university also hired a sustainability coordinator to head the school’s recycling program.

Matt Harmin was appointed to the new position of sustainability coordinator in October 2008. Harmin says there are multiple reasons why Fresno State isn’t sharing the spotlight with the City of Fresno’s recycling achievements.

According to Harmin, the bins placed around campus have been vandalized by vagrants or the less fortunate who enter onto campus and break the locks to get to the material. Non-existent funding for needed repairs like these is a major roadblock, he said. With the downturn in the economy, the university has placed itself in a hiring freeze to save money.

“Bins were donated to put on campus that have locks and I’m sure most, if not all, the locks have been broken,” Harmin said. “We do not have the means to replace the bins with better protection. Not right now.”

Fresno State has one employee to pick up and dispose of all the recycle materials placed in campus bins. Harmin refers to this employee, Mike Garza, 23, a psychology major, as “a one-man recycling army.”

Garza is able to clear out the bins 1 to 2 times per week. But he said that no matter how many bins, clearly marked for recycling, that are placed around campus, none of them are being used appropriately. Essentially, it’s the student body, Garza said, that is sabotaging any solid waste recycling success the university could have.

Garza said that when he pulls the recycle material from the designated bins, he is forced to rummage through the contents and separate what is useful. He said that students need to be self-aware when they are throwing something away.

“They use the recycle bins as garbage,” Garza said. “Why even have it if students aren’t going to use it right? I can’t really recycle banana peels and coffee grounds. That’s compost.”

Garza said that if a student can’t separate recycle goods from garbage, to throw it all in the blue Sunset Waste bins. The company will separate it for you.

“People just shouldn’t be lazy,” Garza said. “Walk the extra couple feet and throw it away correctly. It’s the only way it will work.”

City sets an example

To improve Fresno State’s recycle record, reflecting on the changes the City of Fresno made to get to the top, could be beneficial.

When the City of Fresno was failing to meet the state minimum requirements for recycling, it made the process easier for citizens. In doing so, it catapulted itself to the top with 71 percent of solid waste going to recycling centers.

In 2000, the city removed the smaller bins that required its citizens to separate recyclables, and replaced them with a large rolling blue bin that would hold all recycle items combined. The city hired Sunset Waste Systems to manage their program. The company’s general manager, John Mohoff, said in a 2009 Fresno Bee article that the change in the way the city collected the product made more people get involved.

“I think participation more than doubled from that change,” Mohoff told The Bee. “And the technology was there to support it.”

Sunset Waste has machines that allow for manual and automatic sorting and then sells the product, with a share going to the City of Fresno.

Harmin commended the bin change the City of Fresno made, but said that it is very costly to pay a company to separate the recycled material, should the university choose to make the same change on campus.
“In economic times like these, there is just no money for that,” Harmin said.

The Fresno State campus currently has a recycle center on Barstow Avenue that accepts office paper, newspaper, cardboard, plastic, aluminum and glass. Anyone in the community is welcome to drop off items. It even takes scrap metal. The money that is generated from this recycling, which ranges from $6,000 to $8,000 a month, is credited toward the campus waste bill. The difference ends up being a couple thousand dollars, saving the university much needed money.

Students can help

Harmin said that there is a recycling bin of some sort in or outside every building on campus with exception of the Save Mart Center. He also said that there is definite room for improvement, but until the funding that is needed comes through, it’s up to student cooperation to make the program work.

“Recycling will truly be a resounding success for the campus when we do so much of it, that the value of our recyclable materials completely displaces our waste hauling costs,” Harmin said.

Harmin also believes that “Go Green” projects, like the one that started in fall of 2006, are a good way to get students to participate in conservation. Earth Day and Vintage Days are also on-campus events that will educate and encourage students to participate.

According the Harmin, if students hold each other accountable to get their waste and recyclables to the correct containers, much more progress will be made. There are also people in student office that can help make a difference.

“If this is something important to you, make it known to your ASI representative,” Harmin said. “They are there to lobby the university administration on your behalf. They are in the position to cooperate with me in focusing some of the university’s resources on strengthening the recycle program.”

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