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Recycling competition highlights importance of reuse

RecycleMania is underway once again, and Mills College is poised to rank highly in the national recycling and composting competition this year. The annual contest runs Jan. 17 to March 27, and so far Mills has earned a spot in the top five for recycling and composting per capita. In 2009, Mills ranked 26th in the country for its overall recycling rate, with a rate of about 42 percent.

This is fantastic, but it still means more than half of our waste products end up in the landfill – there is still a lot we can do.

Last Fall, Bon Appetit partnered with the College to give reusable to-go cups and reusable clam shell containers to all incoming students. However, both of these products are underused. Some Mills students use their reusable clam shell as a pencil box or storage container. Some sit on shelves, untouched.

If Mills students stopped using the disposable containers from the Tea Shop and Cafe Suzie, we would make a large impact as a student body. The majority of Bon Appetit’s packaging is compostable, but it is better to not waste at all than to recycle or compost. It may sound difficult or inconvenient to stop taking those brown cardboard boxes, but there are several options. One could take the food “for here” instead of “to go.” This may mean you can’t take food to your class or dorm, but it’s probably preferable you eat at a table in the Tea Shop or plaza anyway. And what to do with leftovers? You could keep Tupperware in your backpack or purse. Tupperware is much less likely to spill and allows the food to last longer.

For to-go cups, the reusable porcelain mugs are a great investment, especially since it reduces the price of your morning coffee to $1.

The three main categories in RecycleMania are recycling, composting and waste minimization. Since Mills is too small to compete with other schools in terms of the weight of recycled materials produced, the College focuses more on the recycling and compost generated per capita. Every year for the past three years Mills placed in the top five in these two categories. But last year in waste minimization, we were ranked 117th.

So far this year Mills has marginally improved and our current standing is slightly lower than last year.

Reusing is a better option because, unfortunately, composting is still not available campus-wide. College administrators have roadblocked composting bins in all campus building besides the dining facilities and the campus apartments. Why can’t our janitorial services that remove trash and recycling daily also empty our compost bins?

Most recycling programs teach the 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Recycling is crucial, but what comes first are reducing consumption and reusing containers. Reducing our campus waste could have an even greater environmental impact than the tons of materials we send to the recycling and composting facilities.