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2013 Fall Issue 7 (November 8, 2013)

Campus Not as Environmentally Friendly as We Think

November 8, 2013
By Ben Hubbert

Carleton’s self-proclaimed ‘greenness’ is visible everywhere on campus, from recycling and compost bins in nearly every corner, to the windmills that lie on the peripheral of campus. Lights switch off automatically. Toilets give the option of flushing with less water.

New buildings, such as the Weitz Center, have been specially designed to reduce CO2 emissions by using high volume fly ash in all the concrete; rooms have been designed to utilize natural lighting. The Libe has upgraded its lighting system to reduce energy production by 40%. But when it comes to waste, Custodian Randy Peck has a different story.

“There’s a lot of recycling in the trash, compost in the garbage cans, garbage in the compost,” Peck explains. “I’m frustrated, sickened, to see all that stuff where it doesn’t belong.”

Peck, who has been a custodian on campus for over 26 years, has seen a lot of trash. And not all of it gets put where it’s belongs. According to Peck, “We’re doing about 50% at Carleton.”

Peck believes the biggest problem with waste at Carleton is a lack of education on which items are compostable and which are not.

“Black bags don’t compost, they disintegrate,” says Peck. “It turns a big bag into a million little bags.  I don’t think that’s any better for the environment.”

Similarly, although the forks used in Sayles and the official student picnic are made of cornstarch and fully compostable, students often confuse them with non-compostable plastic forks. 

“The students are trying too hard,” Peck believes.

He stresses that students aren’t the only ones who misuse the campus’ recycling and composting systems. 

“Some staff and professors don’t recycle,” Peck said.  “They don’t care.” 

He estimates that only about 40 to 50 percent of the campus’ recyclable waste ends up in a recycling bin.

According to Peck, graduation and move-in days are the worst, with trashcans piled high with excess goods and cardboard boxes that are improperly disposed of. Peck adds that campus takes a major hit after weekends, where mountains of beer cans and liquids are thrown into the trash. Once one improper item is disposed of improperly, the entire bin is contaminated and can’t be recycled.

In the long term, however, Peck is optimistic about Carleton’s ability to improve its environmental policies.  He’s excited about the new wind turbine and Carleton’s composting program, and sees education and student involvement as a step that could improve Carleton’s environmental friendliness tremendously.

“Students used to run the recycling program, and they did a pretty good job, but about fifteen years ago the college took over. Now it’s just a formality, not a movement.  Recycling used to be important to students, and I don’t know where that got lost.” 

To solve this problem, Peck wants to expand the Carleton education to include “Earth stewardship.”

“Life skills are part of education,” Peck says. “Teachers could say, ‘this is our classroom, let’s try to keep it clean… we are stewards of the Earth, don’t throw stuff on the ground.’” Peck has written poetry and created artwork to teach students about their role as “stewards of the Earth.” In one of his more ambitious projects, he plans to create a large Kachina doll – a traditional Hopi Indian figure used to teach children about the world – from various types of trash around campus. 

“Is Carleton green?” Peck asks himself. “We’re trying, but it needs to come from the top.”  He hopes that if professors take time to educate their students about the environment, the students will be more interested in keeping it healthy.  “We could see some changes,” he said.  “Here is something we can do.”

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