Photo courtesy of Luther.edu
On Nov. 15, Luther College observed America Recycles Day, a nationally recognized holiday that promotes the practice and benefits of recycling.
The National Recycling Coalition created the America Recycles Day in 1997. Since its inception, it has been a program of Keep America Beautiful, the largest community improvement organization in the United States.
Each year, thousands of events are held to raise awareness about recycling, from petition signing opportunities to recycled materials product giveaways, in order to demonstrate commitment to sustainability. Millions of people across the United States take part in recycling, including at Luther College.
Luther’s recycling program originally started as an initiative from students. Items that are made of paper, cardboard, and aluminum were being recycled on a regular basis. Eventually, recycling became more systematized as Luther began to recycle plastic, and metal. When the Center for Sustainable Communities was created six years ago, it became responsible for campus recycling services. Professor of Religion and Director of the Center for Sustainable Communities Jim Martin-Schramm explained the role that the Center has in recycling.
“The Center has only existed for six years, but the Environmental Concerns Organization, the student run organization, ran recycling for most of the history,” Martin-Schramm said. “Then, there is always an intersection with facilities. After the Center was created, the whole of recycling was moved into our world, and we not only educated students, faculty, and staff about recycling, we had the students who did it.”
The CSC applies for grants from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to expand recycling infrastructures, and retains the responsibility for on-campus education. Despite this, some students lack knowledge on methods of recycling. This year, the Center was given less time with first-year and transfer students during orientation, and some recycling information was not covered.
Additionally, Luther has experienced an increase of wrongful disposal methods. Items that can be recycled are ending up in the trash stream, and objects that should be disposed of in the trash are appearing in the recycling stream.
Faye Lee (‘20) worked the Sustainabili-TEA tabling session that took place outside the cafeteria on Thursday, and she explained the need for recycling education on campus
“Recently, we’ve had really serious contamination with recycling in Ylvisaker Hall and in Towers,” Lee said. “I did waste auditing with one of my colleagues and we found some people just throwing a whole bag of soda cans into the trash. A lot of this contamination is happening around all kinds of resident halls, and that’s why we’re having this tabling session: to educate people in case they do not know how to sort the recycling and everything.”
Although there is still work to be done, Luther College is recognized as one of the most sustainable private liberal arts colleges in the nation.Luther is ranked as one of the top ten baccalaureate colleges in regards to sustainability. 40% of campus courses involve sustainability, Luther’s carbon footprint has been reduced by 50% to date, and the recycling initiative on campus has diverted a lot of waste from the landfill.
However, the Center for Sustainable Communities still has goals that they would like to implement. In their strategic plan for the 2019-2022 period, they reference goals that involve operational sustainability, applied and integrated learning, campus culture, community resilience, and leadership, capacity, and visibility. But their overarching goal is to create a zero waste culture.
Assistant Director of the Center for Sustainable Communities Emily Neal helped to clarify what zero waste means.
“We are working on a campus-wide zero waste initiative, which will not only involve how we dispose of our waste but also guide our purchasing decisions,” Neal said. “In addition to zero-waste, we are currently on a trajectory of carbon neutrality by 2030, with a 70% reduction by 2021.”
The zero waste goal is consistent with the CSC’s mission, to practice ethical stewardship of the natural resources available. Luther has reduced the amount of waste that goes to the landfill by increasing the amount that is recycled on an annual basis.
According to Martin-Schramm, Luther’s next goal should be creating a culture of sustainability, so that students do not even question whether to recycle something or not.
“The most important thing is that we cultivate a culture of sustainability on campus,” Martin-Schramm said. “It isn’t about LED light bulbs or wind turbines or recycling infrastructure, it’s about you and me. It’s about our values, our virtues. We need to help mold our students through repeated behaviors to become more sustainable in their daily practice and lives.”