Eliminating stand-alone trash cans and creating centralized locations to recycle or dump trash has proved effective at increasing how much people chose to recycle, according to a study done by a Fort Lewis College student.
Senior Jessica Henry said strategically placing recycling bins in school buildings can keep more recyclables out of the landfill.
It is a solution that could be replicated in many settings, such as businesses, to help keep recyclables out of the trash, she said.
“It’s fairly easy, and I found it to be pretty impactful,” she said.
Henry made recycling more convenient in the Jones and Chemistry halls at FLC during a two-week period by placing recycling and trash bins next to each other in the hallways. The new recycling bins offered an alternative to the recycling bins outside the buildings, she said.
She also took all the small trash cans out of the individual classrooms to help ensure the new bins wouldn’t create new work for custodians, she said.
She found the new layout saved time for custodians and increased recycling within the buildings, she said. For example, in Jones Hall the new bins translated into an average of 52.5 more recyclable items per week staying out of the trash compared with her control period. She counted the recyclables by hand to judge the effectiveness of the new bins, she said. Her changes were based on strategies that have worked at institutions.
The city of Durango’s sustainability coordinator, Imogene Ainsworth, said most people will spend mere seconds looking for a receptacle for their trash, so if recycling and trash bins are both available and clearly differentiated by color, people are likely to recycle correctly, she said.
“Ease of recycling is super important,” she said.
Durango residents keep almost 30 percent of their waste out of the landfill by recycling it, which is more than double the state’s diversion rate of 12 percent, according to a report by Eco-Cycle and the Colorado Public Interest Group.
By 2029, the state aims to increase its diversion rate to 28 percent, which would reduce the state’s carbon emissions by 2.2 million tons a year, the report said.
At FLC, surveys have found that nearly all students have positive feelings about recycling, said Kathy Hilimire, assistant professor and sustainability coordinator at FLC.
“What was holding them back was not knowing where to put the stuff,” she said.
Henry said she worked with college staff to design her project.
She said she plans to present her data to the college.
“I think it’s important to shift our paradigm of out of sight, out of mind,” she said.