“When you understand everything is connected, you realize that throwing a soda bottle in a stream can create a habitat for something that may not have a habitat there,” according to Gaelle Gourmelon, a senior biology major at UAB and one of the leaders of the student environmental group Green Initiative at UAB. “That could be good if it’s an endangered species, but normally it may have a negative effect.”
The mention of a soda bottle is appropriate, since Gourmelon and I are sitting in the office at the UAB Recycling Center on a recent Friday and are joined in a discussion of the growth and importance of recycling on campus by Jon Paolone, UAB’s young, passionate recycling coordinator, and Scott Moran, business manager for UAB Facilities, which oversees the recycling program.
Paolone also believes in the importance of small steps, including office workers who began recycling their soda cans rather than throwing them in the trash—the first step in the journey to a perhaps overcrowded landfill. “All those drops in the bucket add up to a huge bucket load,” Paolone says.
Fortunately, UAB now has a program in place to handle all these bucket loads, with the opening of the Recycling Center on the western fringe of campus in early 2009 and the dramatic expansion of its in-house recycling efforts. According to Paolone and Moran, these efforts—along with a campus-wide energy conservation program—are part of a dramatic effort to make UAB greener. These efforts not only benefit the community and the environment but also save the university money. In fact, the slogan the university uses to build support for the program is “Think green—save gold$$”
According to Moran, the university previously contracted with an outside waste management company to handle paper recycling, and that company kept the revenues derived from selling recycled materials. UAB discontinued that arrangement in 2008 due to increasing pick-up fees, “We saw a huge increase and a good time make a switch,” Moran says. “We decided to step up our program.”
The new program has worked out well for UAB, according to Moran. “We have been able to scale back our solid waste pickups, and we saved the university over $100,000 last year,” he says. “That money is not necessarily a savings to the university overall, because we have to pay for the program, but that’s how we pay for it. The revenues that we’re generating plus the savings just about pays for our recycling program.”
Moran is optimistic about the long-term financial viability of UAB’s recycling efforts. “The commodity markets are recovering so we’re getting more for what we’re recycling,” he says. “And we’re getting more buildings online and more people recycling and we are real close to completely paying for ourselves here. I don’t know if we will ever turn a profit, but I think we can sustain our program.”
The Recycling Center features three compactors that handle paper, cardboard and aluminum cans, as well as number 1 and number 2 plastic items. The center obtains these materials in two ways, by on-campus pick-ups and by opening the center for drop-offs from UAB faculty, staff and students on Mondays from 6:30-8:30 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.
Paolone, a native of Maine who graduated from UAB in 2004 with a degree in Environmental Studies and was hired as recycling coordinator in December 2008, supervises three drivers. “They go all over campus and collect,” he says.
According to Paolone, well over 300 96-gallon plastic tote containers have been placed in more than 80 buildings across campus to accept mixed paper. There are more of these totes ready to be distributed, he says. There are also nearly 200 containers, called half-gluttons, for the collection of cans and plastic bottles installed in about 30 buildings on campus.
There are also smaller, desk-side recycling containers in all private workspaces in participating buildings. “This makes it easier to recycle,” Paolone says. “They have a method to take stuff to the big tote and just dump it every once in a while.”
The ultimate goal of the recycling program, according to Moran, is to cut the amount of solid waste that the campus generates by about 25 percent. However, he said that it will be difficult to determine exactly when they will reach that goal because of numerous other recycling efforts on campus that are not part of the efforts at the Recycling Center. “There are other pieces on campus that are being recycling that we are not tracking,” he says.
According to Moran, the campus automotive group recycles oil and batteries, the campus surplus stores recycle electronics and other items, and a large volume of paper is recycled on campus in the form of shredded documents among other examples.
“The percentage that we’re recycling could already be at that 25 percent,” Moran says. “But what we’re really trying to get at is 25 percent of the material that we know that we’re not recycling. We’re looking at the solid waste that we know is hitting Alabama landfills, and we want to reduce that number.”
I asked Paolone if he thinks that people are becoming more aware of the environment and the need to protect it, something that could aid UAB in building support for its green programs. “I definitely think so,” he responds. “It’s been building since the sixties, but definitely nowadays, I think people are seeing the financial positives for going green, as well as the planetary reasons.”
According to Gourmelon, she has seen significant support on campus for recycling and other green efforts. “Student wise, there is a lot of support,” she says. “At least people are conscious of it. And faculty wise we have support. Dr. Bud Fisher from the biology department is a strong supporter of our movement, if you want to call it that.”
According to Gourmelon, the Green Initiative at UAB supplies volunteers for the Recycling Center and worked with UAB grounds crews and the student Leadership and Service Council to landscape the center. Members of the group turn out at many campus events to encourage attendees to recycle their cans and bottles and also take part in other recycling and educational events called Green Days.
The UAB Recycling Center is located at 620 11th St. South, between Birmingham Fire Station No. 2 and WBHM radio. UAB faculty, staff, students or anyone employed by an entity affiliated with UAB can drop off their recyclables at the Recycling Center between 6:30-8:30 a.m. or 4-6 p.m. each Monday (or Tuesday if Monday falls on a holiday). During the drop-off times, there is a drive-through drop-off service staffed by UAB Recycling Center employees and volunteers. For more information about recycling and the greening of UAB, visit www.fab.uab.edu/FacMngtRecycle.ASP. To learn more about the Green Initiative at UAB, check out their Facebook page.
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