When students return this weekend for the start of the fall semester, more than 8,000 students will arrive on campus to move into University housing. As students and their families begin unpacking carloads of clothes, bedding and dorm supplies, a small team of Facilities Services and other Finance and Operations staff will be waiting for them at residence hall dumpster stations to support the Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling (OWRR) Student Move-in program.
The move-in crew will start their day at the Office of Waste and Reduction and Recycling, where they will be issued a “UNC Recycles” T-shirt, grabbers, work gloves, box cutters and bottled water. After a training and safety session, staff will split into teams and head to residence halls across campus where they will begin to sort through the contents of trash dumpsters. Using their grabbers, they will pull out cardboard, Styrofoam and other recyclables they find and move them to the appropriate bins.
OWRR Waste Diversion Coordinator Amy Preble explains the importance of the program and their presence during move-in: “Students and their families can be really stressed during this time, so they don’t always think about recycling. There’s a huge rush, everybody’s trying to get a lot done, they’re unpacking, and it’s just human nature to just stuff everything into a box and put it into the nearest receptacle that you see.” Before the program began in the fall of 2001, trash dumpsters across campus would often become buried under huge piles of discarded boxes over the course of move-in weekend. The cardboard would then head to the landfill, where corrugated cardboard is banned, resulting in significant tip fines for the University.
The move-in team is not just there to sort and recycle, they are also what Preble calls “Recycling Ambassadors.” During the training session she tells staff, “You’re here to be that friendly face that stops them in their tracks, takes that box from their hands, and breaks it down and puts it in the cardboard dumpster for them.” As hot and tired students and their families approach the waste stations to dispose of boxes and packing materials, their faces break into smiles, appreciative of the assistance during this hectic weekend.
Through education, engagement and sorting, the move-in team diverted 15 tons of cardboard from landfills during last fall’s initiative. The program has expanded over the years to include plastic wrap recycling in 2009 and Styrofoam collection in 2013. Since the start of the program in 2001, more than 322 tons of cardboard, polystyrene and plastic film have been recycled and kept out of landfills.
OWRR also hopes that seeing staff take the time to recycle will make a strong first impression on incoming students and will encourage them to continue the effort themselves on subsequent visits to dumpster stations and when they are out and about on campus. Launched in fall 2016, the University’s Three Zeros Environmental Initiative challenges the Carolina community to reduce its environmental impact through three sustainability goals: net zero water usage, zero waste to landfills, and net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Students are encouraged to limit the amount of waste they bring to campus, and to recycle and compost waste that leaves the campus.