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Spotlight on recycling

Bonne Marie Bautista

Today marks the beginning of a friendly competition at Mills among the dorms to see which building can produce the most recyclables. The winner will be awarded prizes from Campus Facilities.

The purpose of the competition is to raise awareness about the improved recycling program instituted two weeks ago by staff from Campus Facilities and other departments. The program features new recycling posts in the student dorms, recycling bins next to the large garbage dumpsters and compost bins in all the private kitchens on campus.

The new program is an effort to create a more cohesive recycling program on campus in concert with California Waste Solutions, a privately owned recycling and waste management company in the Bay Area. Due to the efforts of Campus Facilities director Paul Richards and his team, the recycling face lift is supposed to make campus recycling more efficient.

“It’s something I personally wanted for some time, and student demands finally got the school on it to authorize it,” Richards said.

The effort began last summer, when Richards hired Heidi Obermeit as recycling manager for the campus. Obermeit oversaw the installation of the new bins and clearly marked recycling cans across campus and is now coordinating efforts to raise student awareness about the program.

“I’ve talked to a few people who didn’t even know that if recyclables were put in the dorm bins, they’d be recycled,” she said. “I want to encourage people to reduce waste, and education is the way to do that.”

Obermeit and Richards say they are committed to making that education fun through the campus-wide competition. Between Oct. 23 and Nov. 17, the trash produced by each dorm will be weighed against the amount of recycling produced on a weekly basis to find the ratios of pounds of recyclables per dorm, or the diversion rate. Whichever dorm recycles the most or has the lowest diversion rate will win a pizza and ice cream party.

Campus recycling options have expanded in other ways as well. Students can join the Recycling Club, which meets Mondays and Wednesdays at 12 p.m. in Founders Commons, or become a recycling coordinator for their hall. Mills currently has compost bins at Founders Dining Commons, the Tea Shop and Cafe Suzie’s. More compost bins will be placed at Warren Olney, Faculty Village, Underwood Apartments, the Courtyard Townhouses and the Co-ops on campus.

Richards is concerned that many students on campus do not understand that almost every item used at the Tea Shop and Cafe Suzie’s is compostable. “If people understood that their plastic forks and spoons are compostable, it would return to the earth and come back to us in a better form,” he said.

Steven Z. Deresh, dining services manager, has ordered to-go containers and utensils that look like plastic but are actually made out of potato starch. These items can go in the compost bin. “This is an important step in source reduction that will help the campus reach zero waste,” said Richards.

Mills is now recycling about 28 percent of its total waste, which is consistent with the national rate of recycling. However, Mills is far below the Alameda county recyling rate of 58 percent and the state of California’s 52 percent recycle rate. “By increasing recycling opportunities and making it easier to recycle, Mills can reach the ultimate strategic goal of recycling 100 percent of its waste,” Obermeit said.

Founders Dining Commons is far ahead of the rest of campus. Under the direction of Roselia Zendejas, senior dining services manager, Founders Dining Commons is at a 97 percent diversion rate. This means only 3 percent of the materials that are used in this building get thrown into the garbage. According to Obermeit and Richards, this is the goal for every building on campus. They feel that this goal is reachable with the help of the community.

“This expanded recycling program represents a collaborative effort among staff and students across the College,” Richards said. “It’s going to take more than my commitment, it’s going to take the community’s active part. We have to figure out how to stop waste at its source by eliminating things we can’t recycle or compost, namely plastic and Styrofoam.”

Obermeit, who majored in environmental studies and was a student recycling coordinator in college, iterated that simple actions like bringing a tote bag when shopping, reducing junk mail intake and not buying over-packaged items can help reduce waste at the source.

“I’m excited to work with Heidi and get people excited about recycling,” said sophomore Kelly Stewart, recycling coordinator for Ege Hall, who helped organize a compost movement in her hall last year. “It is easy to do and really possible to make Mills a greener campus.”

Obermeitt agreed. “Recycling is really simple, but it has big impact on the environment.”

For more information about Mills’ expanded recycling program, contact Heidi Obermeit, recycling manager, at; or visit the soon-to-be instituted Web site at