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Bryn Spielvogel 164 Atherton Hall University Park, PA 16802 April 16, 2012 Erik Foley, Manager, Sustainability

Programs Campus Sustainability Office 1 Land and Water Research Building University Park, PA 16802 To Penn States Campus Sustainability Office, I am a second semester student here at Penn State, and I am writing to express my concern that our university has a recycling problem. This predicament exists despite the fact that Penn State has an impressive recycling program. According to our green website, green.psu.edu, we recycled 59% of our total waste in 2010, an impressive amount for an institution of our size.1 We also participate in a composting initiative, we have saved over $600,000 thanks to recycling efforts, and myriad of recycling programs and special events are hosted at Penn State every year. This combination of things makes the universitys waste disposal program into the award-winning model that it is.2

The Problem
The problem with our recycling program surrounds student involvement, and it can be broken down into three levels: knowledge, understanding, and convenience. As green.psu.edu pointed out, recycling is simply a smarter way of managing your waste [] now its up to you to choose to use [recycling] resources and make a positive impact for yourself and your environment. In other words, a lot of the power is left in the hands of the individual, and while some students choose to push for sustainability, a lot of us simply do not make smart choices in this regard because we are either ignorant of the university's recycling programs, unaware of the significance of recycling overall, or just plain lazy. 1. Knowledge: The biggest issue with Penn State recycling is that while some students are all for the recycling efforts, many of us have no clue what recycling initiatives exist at our university. I personally feel that I have learned little-to-none about Penn States recycling efforts on campus, apart from what I have looked up independently. Although my environmentally-friendly upbringing provided me some recycle savvy, I was unaware of many lesser known recycling guidelines (like those on electronics and light bulbs) until I researched them, and I am certain that most students who throw out plastic bottles would not look up additional recycling rules. Penn States efforts to advertise recycling guidelines and initiatives to students are ineffective, and this likely leads many to believe that sustainable living is unimportant at Penn State, which is quite far from the truth.

2. Understanding: Not only are many students ignorant of Penn States recycling programs, but plenty of us also do not understand the importance of recycling in itself. In one of my classes, a student raised the question of whether recycling actually does anything, especially when issues like world hunger and poverty are so prominent. This lack of understanding is not rare among students, and it contributes to the misconception that throwing away recyclables is acceptable. Without a basic understanding of recycling and its importance, most students will not go out of their way to do it, regardless of whether or not they are particularly lazy. 3. Convenience: For many students, recycling is an issue of convenience. As a freshman student at University Park, I have seen how recycling efforts are ignored for the sake of convenience. According to your offices Rob Andrejewski, East Halls only recycled a measly 6% of their waste last year.3 When recycling bins are not easily accessible, it is simply easier to throw all your waste in one bin. This attitude is very problematic for Penn State recycling, because it is unlikely to change on its own. From what I have seen on campus, student knowledge about recycling is lacking, and without knowledge, how can any students be expected to care? How can they be expected to make educated choices? They cannot, which is why there needs to be a change in Penn States policies on recycling.

The Solution
There are two possible courses of action that can be taken to address this issue. One of these options would fail to provide a real solution to the problem. The first solution is to take a very radical approachsomething that might involve mandatory recycling service work or a punishment system for dorms with low recycling outputswhich would likely cause many students to dislike the program, in which case they would be unlikely to carry it on in the future. The second plan, which is outlined below, is the only one that will provide a viable solution to our recycling problem. The entirety of Penn States student body must be involved in recycling to a greater degree, helping it understand the importance of recycling and providing easier ways to do it, which will ensure that all studentswhether motivated or notwill participate in the program. In order to achieve this end, I suggest a course of action including three steps. Through the use of this three tiered plan, all students will gain a general understanding of recycling and Penn States strategies regarding it. 1. Education: This is the most important step; if students at least have a basic understanding of recycling, its merits, and its purpose, the question of whether or not it is really important will be answered. One strategy is to utilize an online learning module, similar to PSU SAFE and PSU AWARE, programs that all first year students are required to participate in to ensure their understanding of alcohol and sexual assault. A similar educational tool should be designed to promote sustainable livingincluding recycling at Penn State. Another option would be to require recycling education in freshmen

seminar courses, which would be beneficial in that it would add onto an existing system, rather than creating an entirely new one. 2. Awareness: For students to begin participating in recycling efforts to a greater degree, widespread awareness of Penn States waste-disposal program is necessary. This should be promoted through participation in the RecycleMania Tournament, a competition between over 600 schools that promotes waste reduction at college campuses and helps to generate attention for campus recycling programs.4 University Park should also follow Penn State New Kensingtons example in sponsoring sustainability week activities and things of the like, which would further promote Penn States efforts. Additionally, recycling guidelines, initiatives, etc. should be advertised on campus more readily, ensuring that students know not only how to recycle, but also what their individual efforts are contributing to. 3. Expansion: The final step is all about making recycling easier for students, which will guarantee that they have no excuse not to participate in the initiative. This can be done by distributing even more recycling receptacles around campus, providing each dorm room with an additional trash can for recyclables, and opening an on-campus recycling center for less-common recyclables, like electronics. The general idea is that if students realize that they can make a difference by doing something small, they will be more likely to promote those actions in others, even after leaving the university. The costs of this three step program will be balanced out by its merits. An analysis of recycling programs from the University of Nebraska demonstrated that schools with the highest funding and most employees for their recycling program had the highest recycling ratios.5 In other words, the costs of such an initiative will likely be cancelled out by its success. A successful initiative will also mean that the general upward trend in savings realized through recycling (see figure 1) will skyrocket, leaving the university with an immense amount of savings.6 Eventually this trend will level out, but rather than resulting from a lack of student involvement, this plateau will be due to full student participation; the percentage of waste recycled will have reached close to the highest possible value.

Figure 1: Penn State's Recycling Savings


Recycling costs Penn State $5-$20 per ton to process, whereas trash costs $70 per ton to dispose of. This graph shows how much we 6 have saved by keeping a good amount of waste out of the landfill.

Furthermore, the proposed strategy for this policy change is perfectly feasible. For one, the educational goals are modeled off of existing initiatives. Additionally, the ideas for spreading awareness are utilized by hundreds of colleges already, so Penn State would be taking virtually no risks by participating in such activities.

The Reasons
One must ask why widespread student involvement is so important for the universitys recycling initiatives, especially considering the programs are doing so well without it. First off, Penn States title as leader in sustainability initiatives,7 is only valid so long as the university continues succeeding in its sustainability programs, like the recycling ones. According to green.psu.edu, Penn State has the means and locations to recycle and compost 88% of its waste.1 However, it will be virtually impossible to reach this high goalor anything near it without efforts from the entire student body. If students involvement is not increased, the percentage of recycled waste will plateau, and our status as a leader in waste disposal will be in question. As the recycling program is handled now, the final aims of your office and of Penn State on the whole are neglected. According to green.psu.edu, the ultimate goal [of the sustainability effort] is to ensure that Penn State is ecologically sound, socially responsible, and financially strong, while serving as a living laboratory for global sustainability to educate and serve our students.8 The idea is that sustainability efforts will not only benefit the university, but that they will also educate students so that they leave Penn State with the knowledge and the ability to bring such programsor at least the ideas involved to outside communities and people. While the university is succeeding in many of its sustainability efforts, the fact that many students remain uninformed and disinterested in recycling programs shows that the ultimate goal to educate and serve students is not being fulfilled. Moreover, if only a select few students really care about recycling, the likelihood is that only a select few Americans will care about it. And in a time when sustainability is so important, where will that leave the nation? As Penn States recycling services chairman Al Matyasovsky said, [students are] the driving force behind our operation.9 So naturally, the more students are involved, the more force the initiative drives forward with, and the more successful it can be. Recycling is not an issue that ends at our campus, but that is where students can begin addressing it, so long as they are given the right tools. Penn State has a recycling problem. But we also have the solution. Sincerely, Bryn Spielvogel

"Recycling & Waste Management." green.psu.edu. Ed. Patricia Craig. Penn State University, 2011. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. <http://www.green.psu.edu/psuDoing/recycling/default.asp>. Uzar, Jessica. "PSU saves by recycling." Collegian Online. Collegian Inc, 30 Apr. 2010. Web. 9 Apr. 2012. <http://www.collegian.psu.edu/archive/2010/04/30/psu_saves_by_recycling.aspx>. Andrejewski, Rob. "Sustainability." Penn State University. State College. 26 Mar. 2012. Lecture.

2012 RecycleMania Tournament. RecycleMania Inc, n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2012. <http://recyclemaniacs.org/about/whorecyclemania>. Jones, Jenny. "Comparative Anylysis of Recyling Programs: A Case Study of Three Universities." Digital Commons @ University of Nebraska-Lincoln. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1 Apr. 2010. Web. 9 Apr. 2012. <http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1021&context=envstudtheses&seiredir=1&referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Furl%3Fq%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fdigitalco mmons.unl.edu%252Fcgi%252Fv>. "Recycling Stats ." green.psu.edu. Ed. Patricia Craig. Penn State University, 2011. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. < http://www.green.psu.edu/psuDoing/recycling/default.asp >. Woodard, Bill. "Campus sponsors sustainability week activities." Penn State Live: The University's Official News Source. Penn State University, 4 Apr. 2012. Web. 9 Apr. 2012. <http://live.psu.edu/story/58899#rssSustainability>. "Sustainability at Penn State." green.psu.edu. Ed. Patricia Craig. Penn State University, 2011. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. <http://www.green.psu.edu/about/default.asp>. Uzar, Jessica. "PSU saves by recycling." Collegian Online. Collegian Inc, 30 Apr. 2010. Web. 9 Apr. 2012. <http://www.collegian.psu.edu/archive/2010/04/30/psu_saves_by_recycling.aspx>.