Community Perspective: Recycling is more difficult than ever, but JMU students can spark the change

A contributed Perspectives piece by Nicole Loan

With the 50th anniversary of Earth Day approaching in April 2020,  James Madison University students should contemplate how we can implement the university’s mantra of “being the change” when it comes to our environmental impact. Whether making small or large changes, there is much we can do both individually and collectively right here on campus and in Harrisonburg to address climate change, coral reef destruction, saturated landfills, etc., rather than simply standing by as our planet is being destroyed by human-induced factors. It can start with recycling.

As of right now, 94 percent of the natural resources used by Americans are non-renewable. Recycling converts waste into reusable material. This saves non-renewable resources, by slowing the rate at which they are being depleted. Along with saving natural resources, recycling also saves energy. For example, it takes 95 percent less energy to recycle aluminum than it does to synthesize it from raw materials. With landfills filling up and natural resources being depleted at an unusually high rate, it is imperative that each and every one of us makes an effort to reduce the amount of trash we produce and reuse as many material items as possible.

As previously reported in The Citizen, after China’s decision last year to drastically restrict incoming recyclables because people were sending too much trash there, immense changes have resulted around the country. Individuals and communities now have to decide whether or not to pay higher rates to recycle these items, or simply throw them away. The second option is more economically favorable, and because of this it is all but certain that there will be more trash in the landfills this coming year than the last.

Looking specifically at Harrisonburg, a total of 385 tons of materials in the last 10 months of 2018 was recycled. This is a significant amount, but still amounts to just 4.1 percent of all waste generated in the city. Furthermore, the city’s voluntary recycling program collected more than 29 tons of No. 3 through No. 7 plastics, which as of 2019 are no longer being accepted. That means the percentage of material recycled by Harrisonburg residents will shrink even more. Additionally, Harrisonburg switched last year from curbside collection of recycling to a centralized collection at either the Recycling Convenience Center on Beery Road or mobile recycling units periodically set up around the city. While this is completely feasible for Harrisonburg residents, it is not nearly as convenient and will surely take a toll on the amount of recyclable items that end up in landfills.

Public universities often allocate their funds to other areas such as university infrastructure or bettering the teaching staff. Both are very important areas, yet in a world of decreasing natural resources, the status of our planet needs to be at the forefront of decisions at all institutions. James Madison University has an Institute for the Stewardship of the Natural World.  JMU offers on-campus recycling services, and according to the most recent statistics available, some 40 percent of materials were diverted from landfills in fiscal year 2017. However, a lot of material that can be recycled still ends up in the trash.

Meanwhile, one of the largest drawbacks of living off-campus is that many JMU apartment complexes do not offer recycling pickup. Some newer apartment complexes, such as Campus View, have recycling located at the center of the complex. The majority of off-campus apartments do not; just a few examples are The Harrison, Squire Hill, and Camden Townes.  This is largely because it costs extra money for recycling to be picked up and transported to recycling centers.

With this in mind, it is important to note that the addition of a recycling collection system at all off-campus apartments is not something that can be changed immediately. This change will require a more extensive effort backed by both the JMU and local Harrisonburg community.  Apartments do have the ability to request recycling and if the residents push this initiative, there could be a change in the future.

There are several things that current JMU students can do to minimize their ecological footprint and reduce their impact on the environment. The large changes require deeper engagement within the topic of the environment, while some of the smaller changes simply require increasing awareness of individual impact on the planet. To begin, some of the large changes people can make are:

  • Avoid single-use plastic items and use renewable items that we can use over and over. For example, instead of using plastic bags at the grocery store, bring your own reusable ones and use reusable containers or wax cloth for food.
  • Set up their own recycling system: Find the closest recycling center to them and find out which items they accept, collect these items within their household, and bring them to the recycling center at their earliest convenience.
  • Start a club that collects recycling from apartment complexes every week (time frame may vary) and transport it to the closest recycling center. Collecting recyclables in mass amounts saves college students time and reduces the amount of vehicle pollution released into the atmosphere from multiple trips.

The closest recycling centers to JMU are:

  • Convenience Center, 2055 Beery Road
  • Farmers Market Mobile Unit, 409 South Main St – Municipal Parking Lot

Some of the small changes individuals can make are:

  • Avoid using straws at dining halls.
  • Use glassware dishes at home rather than paper plates and utensils.
  • Do not leave the water running for an extensive amount of time before getting into the shower, while brushing your teeth, or shaving.                           ]

So what will you do to help our planet locally?

Nicole Loan is a graduate of Garnet Valley High School (’17) and will graduate from James Madison University in 2021.  She is currently pursuing a degree in biology and minoring in Spanish.

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