In 2008 Salt Lake Community College students told the college that they wanted to have a recycling program put into place and felt it was important enough that they were willing to put their money where their mouths were. Students were willing to give $1.50 per student from student fees to help pay for the recycling initiative, and in the four years since SLCC has made great strides in going green.
“We recycle here because our students demand it,” says Rand Webb, head of Environmental Health and Safety at SLCC. “We thought that was important because we are here for the students, and we look at their dollars as sacred dollars. Students are the driving force behind this initiative.”
The recycling program at SLCC focuses on reducing the amount of waste that ends up at landfills. The key to SLCC’s recycling program has been landfill diversion, which means going through the different waste streams and seeing what can be prevented from ending up in a landfill. For example, when the college replaces a computer, it is not just thrown out; the computer is broken down piece by piece and recycled by whatever parts are still usable.
“We figure we used to have 60 to 70 percent of our waste that used to go to our landfill but now goes into recycling,” says Webb. “The idea is to break even. If you think recycling pays for itself, it doesn’t. You get three cents a pound for paper but it costs five cents a pound to collect it. You have to buy bins to collect the different types of recyclable waste and then pick them up and transport them.”
SLCC has tried to be efficient with its recycling efforts and has worked with the shipping and receiving departments to have their employees, who were already making pickups and deliveries at the different campuses, also pick up the recycled waste.
“We took an existing system and blended it into our recycling program to maximize our recycling dollars,” says Webb. “We might make ten thousand dollars a year from recycling but then we turn around and put it right back into recycling.”
The efforts of SLCC to turn more of their waste stream into recycled waste have been successful. In 2009, SLCC recycled 159,152 pounds of waste and in 2010 increased that total to 352,023 pounds. Over the last two years, SLCC has almost doubled that amount with 653,685 pounds recycled in 2011 and 687,466 pounds in 2012. As a result of their dramatic improvement, SLCC was named by the Utah Recycling Coalition as the 2012 Recycler of the Year.
“Our success is a direct result of this student-initiated program which, depending on enrollment, also generates enough revenue to hire six part-time students,” says Webb. “I look at this as an environmental health issue. Landfill diversion is the name of the game; it’s all about what you don’t have to bury. As a society we can’t just continue to bury everything.”