More Than a Blue Bin

I always thought recycling was easy. You put paper, plastic, glass and aluminum into the bin and you’re good to go. In general, I didn’t realize that there were different rules to follow before our prefect, Kiran Ramratnam ’22, made a video explaining what could and couldn’t be recycled. She went through our recycling and compost containers and explained exactly what we should do and why. 

Despite that, our dorm’s recycling and trash sorting skills were still questionable. Items that were recyclable were put in the trash, utensils were being put into the compost bin, and paper and plastic containers with food waste were being recycled. Our dorm’s recycling and trash bins were not improving. I know this is not an isolated incident either, as the school wide recycling and trash bins are no better. The whole Andover community must think about our sustainability practices and how we incorporate them into our everyday lives. 

Why is recycling important in the first place? Recycling is crucial in helping the environment, as it saves energy, protects natural resources, and minimizes pollution. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Earth’s supply of resources is rapidly depleting, and air and water quality have been steadily decreasing overtime. If we don’t reuse and recycle the materials we already have, in the future we won’t have the materials we need. The situation has become so detrimental that the National Intelligence Council Report stated that we are “entering an intensified period of resource stress.” On top of that, recycling boosts our economy. The 2020 Recycling Economic Information Report showed that the recycling industry generated 681,000 jobs, and $37.8 billion in wages in 2020. Recycling is a crucial part of our economy, and as more people recycle, the jobs and wages will go up for those in the industry. Recycling is something that not only helps the environment, but also our country as well.

Andover makes recycling for us as easy as is possible by using zero-sort, otherwise known as single-stream, recycling. This type of recycling is sorted manually by a combination of people and machines at a recycling plant which is then processed as recycling. However, the fact that the recycling system at Andover doesn’t have to be sorted doesn’t mean that unrecyclable things can be put into these blue bins. Food waste, for example, cannot be recycled at all, but anyone who has thrown anything into the dumpsters can attest to the food waste they have seen in the recycling bin. Even small amounts of food residue at the bottom of a container can contaminate an entire batch, marking it as unrecyclable and thus designated for the landfill. The same goes for certain types of plastic. Plastic bags, plastic wrap, and even the plastic utensils we get from Commons cannot be recycled are not processed at the plant we use. 

Even though recycling is easier for us than most people, there are still some obstacles in the way. I understand why people don’t want to rinse out their plastic or take the time to consider whether their container is recyclable or not. It’s not the most convenient thing to do, and oftentimes it can be a hassle. Sometimes it just takes too much time to run through all of the different things that I have to take into account before putting something into the recycling bin. I am also guilty of not always recycling properly, when I’m just trying to eat a meal quickly I don’t have time to think about whether or not something is recyclable. Or, sometimes when I’m not sure if I can recycle something or not, I put it in the trash instead of double checking and seeing if I can recycle it. Yet, the few seconds it takes to ensure that we are engaging in accurate and eco-friendly practices are worth it, as they protect our planet and reduce our overall waste.

Most importantly, no one can recycle properly if they don’t know how to. I have a lovely prefect that taught me, but not everyone lives with someone who is eco-conscious. That being said, there are a lot of ways that Andover can inform people about the environment. For example, during Orientation there was a sustainability module they had a section dedicated to recycling, but they only went over it briefly. Going over things more in depth or giving more incentives to recycle would hopefully make students recycle more regularly. It would be helpful if all dorms talked about recycling and energy usage during dorm meetings—maybe even some friendly dorm vs. dorm competition can provide some incentive to recycle properly. That being said, even though Andover makes the information more accessible by posting signs across campus that condense and outline the steps to go through while recycling, people tend to not pay attention to them. Hopefully, by bringing more attention to the topic, people will start to take notice of their recycling habits. At the end of the day if every single student at Andover minimized their environmental impact by recycling a little bit more, we can make a difference.