John Brown University officially reached zero landfill status as of July 2.
Instead of sending waste to a landfill, which costs about $50,000 per year, the University sought creative ways to recycle or dispose of all trash without a scrap ending up in landfills, at about half the cost of standard trash removal. Not only is this better for the environment, it is saving the University and its students money.
Waste that cannot be recycled is taken to Covanta Energy in Tulsa, Okla. where it is safely burned to create steam. The steam is sold or used to create electricity.
Students returning to campus may notice some changes. Dumpsters have disappeared. Blue recycle bins dot the campus, including each dorm room. Faculty and staff empty their own office trash cans. Work-study students sort recyclables at the Facilities Services building.
According to Steve Brankle, facilities services director, the University has at least a 20-year history of recycling, beginning with use of a cardboard compactor. The campus was already baling and selling paper and cardboard when Brankle arrived in 1997.
About four years ago, nearby businesses such as La-Z-Boy, McKee Foods and Dayspring started becoming zero landfill, spurring the city of Siloam Springs and other organizations to become more aware of sustainability issues. Currently, the city is the University’s biggest recycling and sustainability partner.
“It says something about JBU, that we think this is important,” said Brankle.
But the school can only do so much without students getting passionate about recycling and doing their part. It is about changing a culture, according to Brankle.
“I can’t make you recycle. But if we can make it easy enough to recycle, maybe students will,” he said.
Rachel Penna, Derek Stout, Hannah Daughtery and Hannah Neel are a few of the students who collect and sort the recycled materials. These students said they often find items misplaced, such as glass bottles in the plastics bin in J. Alvin dorm. Their advice to other students is “make sure you put the right things in there.”
To better communicate with students, Facilities Services contacted Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) about beginning a Zero Landfill project, which started in fall 2011.
SIFE students created banners, posters, video, awareness, and contests to promote recycling across campus.
This year SIFE plans to help support recycling initiatives at campus events, such as the TP game, and to continue raising awareness, according to Obed Diaz, SIFE project leader.
Diaz said his view of recycling has changed since he began working with the project. “I realized how much trash we wasted,” he said.
Diaz says recycling is a good way to be aware of your duty.
“I am studying right now to have a good job and to have a good family and to support my family in a better way,” Diaz explained. “So recycling is just like living this legacy for, maybe, my sons. Because if I am not aware of that, I just waste and leave trash. It is not just being a good student, but a good steward of the environment.”