Recycling rate a record 51 percent

May 23rd, 2013 | By | Category: 2013, Campus News, Issue, May 23

Individual recycling efforts led by faculty, staff and students are helping reduce UNL’s carbon footprint.

In 2012, UNL achieved a 51 percent recycling rate — which means the university recycled more waste than it sent to the local landfill. The percentage is 10 points more than 2011 and is four times greater than the 12 percent recycled in 2003.

“Basically, UNL’s carbon footprint in terms of waste was less than zero in 2012,” said Prabhakar “Prabs” Shrestha, a UNL recycling coordinator. “It really is amazing how far the university has come in terms of recycling. It has been successful because of teamwork between students, faculty and staff.”

UNL’s recycling program is led by graduate students — most recently by Shrestha and Jeff Henson. It is a passive program that allows faculty, staff and students to self-select levels of participation.

Employees and students police their own recyclables, hauling them to central collection points near campus buildings. The recycling coordinators make plastic totes of various sizes are available to faculty, staff and students. The coordinators also schedule regular and requested pick-up times by UNL’s recycling team drivers Troy Davis, Rich Hennecke and Ed Holloway.

“All the responsibility is in the hands of UNL’s students and employees,” Shrestha said. “I love that it doesn’t take many people to get recycling going within a building, really just a few leaders who say, ‘We need to recycle.’ That sets the tone and others start to follow.”

Shrestha said the success of the volunteer program surprises colleagues outside UNL.

“Most major universities have custodians pick up recyclables or they outsource the job. Both are costly,” Shrestha said. “Individuals from the University of Iowa were amazed by the success of our program and how involved staff, faculty and students are. We often hear how this type of program would not work at other universities.”

The program has even started to generate $30,000 to $40,000 annually as UNL sells the recycled goods to outside vendors. Shrestha said those funds are put back into the program to purchase additional bins, equipment and training items.

Shrestha, who will graduate in August, said one of his last projects is to finalize funding for a system that will weigh recyclable goods and waste collected at each individual building. The data will be made available online to allow faculty, staff and students to track totals.

“I hope to start the onboard weighing system in July,” Shrestha said. “It should be interesting to see how individual buildings compare on average to what the rest of the university is doing in terms of recycling.

“I think it will also inspire individuals and help push the UNL recycling rate even higher.”

— Troy Fedderson, University Communications

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