Do you ever think about what happens after you throw something away? Once the garbage leaves your house, its life cycle may seem finished to you, but it is really just beginning its journey to sit in a landfill. Waste production in the US has almost tripled in the past 50 years. According to the EPA, in 2011 Americans sent 250 million tons of trash to landfills yet only recycled and composted about 34%.
Colgate is doing its part to encourage waste reduction and recycling, but it still sends over 750 tons of trash to the landfill each year, with a recycling rate of about 25%. Our campus goal is to reduce this number to 500 tons by 2015, which can be achieved by reassessing what we consider trash. Garbage is a subjective term, so ask yourself if the items you consider obsolete or useless might benefit someone else.
There are plenty of online services and stores to ensure your belongings find a new home! GateSwap is a sustainable way for Colgate students to exchange good and services on campus, Next Door Hamilton lets you exchange items with the greater Hamilton community, and the COVE has an end-of-the-year move out program where students can leave belongings behind which are then donated to local charities.
However, not all of your items may be in the proper condition to reuse, so make sure to recycle! Colgate and the Village of Hamilton practice two-stream recycling: one stream for glass, plastics (1-7) and bottles, and another stream for all paper and cardboard products. Thus, the most efficient way to manage your waste is to set up a three-bin waste management system: one bin for bottles and cans, one bin for paper and cardboard, and one bin for your trash.
You will be glad to know that we also recycle all electronic waste on campus. If it has a plug and an “on” button, then you can probably recycle it! Check out our webpage to learn more about electronic waste at Colgate.
Once the trash and recyclables leave Colgate, they travel to the Madison County Landfill and Recycling Center, which has proven to be a leader of sustainable practices. Sharon Driscoll, the Recycling Coordinator, explained many of their initiatives including a solar power installation, electricity production from a methane capture system, and a pilot recycling program to turn agricultural and rigid plastic into diesel fuel. In addition, the Landfill Transfer stations pull out gently used items that would have gone to the landfill in order to sell them in the new Re-Use store, which has kitchenware, decorative items, and more for low prices (Great for students on a budget!) As Driscoll explains, “A lot of things we sell I find in the scrap metal yard early in the morning before they squish everything.”
The staff members at the Madison Co. Landfill practice sustainability and consider very few items trash. Now it is up to us to do the same. It starts with our mindset: we must consider old items “garbage” only as a last resort. Instead, find new purposes for old items– donating, selling, repurposing, or recycling them are usually better options for you and for our planet.
Want to learn more about recycling at Colgate and download our recycling guide? Visit our website.