As a liberal arts university with posters in every building proclaiming “Green Up STU!” it would be a fairly safe assumption to think that we’re forward-thinkers in the realm of environmental sustainability. However, St. Thomas University may not be as “green” as it would have us believe.
Those big blue multi-purpose recycling bins in every building on campus are less-than-perfectly transparent about where recycling goes. In fact, a great number of the cans, glass, and bottles are thrown in with the trash. There is no place for the clean-up workers to dispose of them on campus. The clean-up crew, as well as the kitchen and staff of the cafeterias, are employed by Aramark. While there are facilities in place to dispose of the trash and recyclable paper, no such facility as yet exists for cans and bottles.
The blue bins were installed a year ago by St. Thomas’ Facilities Management. They were installed, according to Alex Driscoll, who acts on the Student Union as Vice President of Education, as a front to impress attendees to an important academic conference. Driscoll also said, “At the end of the day, Aramark empties the bottles from the bins, and throws them in the garbage bin.”
There are those that would disagree with Driscoll. Bill MacLean, Director of Facilities Management at St. Thomas, claimed no knowledge of any arbitrary disposal of recyclables. “I don’t know if that’s true,” he said when asked about the alleged destination of cans and bottles.
In an environmental audit conducted by the President’s Advisory Committee last year, the only mention made about cans and bottles is that, “Blue bins are emptied by a private company,” and that company would be Aramark. Other than the information in the audit, Facilities Management has no knowledge of what happens to the cans and bottles after they end up in the blue bins.
Wyn Gruffydd, the Food Services Director, was adamant that all recyclables reached a depot. He said, “I know they are being taken.
Workers are taking them.” Gruffydd said all the recycling makes it to a depot through the efforts of Aramark’s own staff and outside of the worker’s hours of employment. In some cases, he’s right; some workers are taking the bottles and collecting the money for themselves. However, according to one Aramark worker, it’s an out-of-the-way task for many employees, and much of the recycling gets lumped in with the trash. Only a small portion of what’s deposited in the blue bins actually makes it to a recycling facility.
However, the environmental audit is aware of its blind spots, and remains hopeful. “St. Thomas University should conduct a waste audit to determine potential recyclables that could be diverted from the waste stream. In the meantime, as a part of an overall environmental education campaign, recycling should be encouraged with the objective of 100% recycling within ten years.”