Students should not have to work to recycle

Isabelle Costello

According to a 2016 study in the International Journal of Waste Resources, situational factors play a leading role in determining whether or not people –– especially students in higher education –– recycle. How close recycling bins are to public seating areas, how clearly they’re marked and how much energy an individual has to exert to use them can determine the difference between a healthy campus and one riddled with waste. 

Though UT dining halls have switched entirely to takeout in response to the pandemic, many of the trash bins across campus lack paired recycling bins, especially in the outdoor pavilions surrounding the Jester dorms and dining hall. 

If students want to recycle, they must take matters into their own hands.

UT needs to provide recycling bins across campus wherever there are trash cans to encourage student recycling and make sustainable student living as easy as possible. 

Prior to the pandemic, students had the opportunity to dine indoors. However, since the emergence of COVID-19 precautions, students have to take dining hall meals outside, forcing foam containers and plastic dishes to be taken to outdoor tables, patios and lawns where few recycling options are available (and the ones present are often overfilled).

“When I sit outside, there’s only one (recycling) option around the Jester area, mainly just trash cans, and it’s typically overflowing, and you’re unable to put anything in,” said Sydney Kerr, radio-television-film freshman. 

Kerr lives in Jester East Residence Hall this year and finds that the responsibility of recycling usually falls on her, requiring her to take her trash back to her dorm.

“I’d love to see more recycling bins around Jester,” Kerr said. “There’s definitely room for them, and I definitely think it’d help a lot.”

While it’s admirable of students like Kerr to take responsibility for recycling, the choice to dispose sustainably shouldn’t be one students have to make alone. For students rushing to grab a quick bite between classes or heading off campus after their meal, holding onto waste isn’t a practical solution, nor one that should be made in place of providing easy access to recycling bins.

“We realize that it is important for the infrastructure to match the intentions (and) support the actions that we want people to take, which is recycling at every opportunity,” zero waste coordinator Lindsey Hutchison said.

She explained that the initial pairing of outdoor trash and recycling bins was completed in 2017, taking the number of trash bins down to 171 and producing about 86 pairs.

“We want to see those bins paired throughout our campus buildings so that there is a standard, and they’re easy to find,” Kerr said. “COVID-19 has made us pause a little bit since and reconsider how we can work safely on campus.” 

Though the initial pause in progress is justified, the “new normal,” as much as we hate the phrase, is here to stay for the near future. With the influx of takeout meals, quick plastic and disposable personal protective equipment brought about by the pandemic, it’s time for campus entities to focus efforts on increasing bin pairs, not slowing them. 

UT must ensure that wherever trash cans are present on campus, there are recycling bins to match. Though recycling has always been a foundation of a healthy campus, our habits brought about by the pandemic demand updated resources — ones that will sustain us through this period and into our school’s future. 

Students living and commuting to campus already have too many components of sustainable living stacked out of their reach — their recycling options don’t need to be too.

Costello is a human development and family science freshman from Boerne, Texas.