By Alexandra Parado and Lily Firth
Social Media Editors
Over the past few years, global warming and environmental change have been at the forefront of many political conversations. Most experts agree that the Earth’s temperature is rising — a phenomenon that could ultimately put human life at risk.
According to NASA’s website, the planet's average surface temperature has risen about 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit because of higher levels of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Ice sheets in the poles are shrinking at an alarming rate, with Greenland losing an average of 286 billion tons of ice per year. The global sea level rose approximately 8 inches in the last century and continues to rise.
Humans have contributed to global warming in countless ways –– overpopulation, deforestation and reforestation as well as other activities that contribute to pollution such as, smoking, driving and producing waste. Although some have taken action to fix this, the problem still persists. An easy way to help the planet is by recycling, yet many are still unaware of how important this practice is in the long term.
According to the Compactor Management Company, recycling leads to fewer landfill sites, which pollute the air when products decompose. Recycling also lessens energy consumption — it takes more energy to create new products than it does to recycle old ones.
Because of the positive environmental effects of recycling, many colleges nationwide such as Rutgers University, University of California Los Angeles and Arizona State University have developed recycling initiatives to keep their campuses more green and environmentally friendly.
At the College, recycling efforts are done through a partnership with Solterra Recycling Solutions, which properly sorts out items collected throughout campus. These items are collected by Building Services, which prepares compiled recyclables to be picked up by Solterra Recycling Solutions. The College’s grounds team does the same, but for all of the outdoor containers across campus.
The College is an Energy Star Partner with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As an Energy Star Partner, the College shares data, ideas and benchmarks with additional institutions and is kept aware of new environmental initiatives.
Amanda Radosti, the environmental programs specialist at the College, gave insight on current efforts to improve recycling at the College.
“We have recently started tracking our recycling volumes,” Radosti said. “(The College) recycled just over 129 tons during the last 12 months. We are working with Solterra to collect data on our non-recycled refuse so that we can understand recycling as a percentage of our total waste and so that we can find opportunities to continue to improve.”
She also said that there are several upcoming events that will include food waste demonstrations and a big push to improve recycling during move out at the end of the spring semester.
In an effort to increase the amount of items recycled on campus, the College implemented single-stream recycling in 2010. Single-stream recycling allows all recyclable items to be put into one recycling bin, which makes the process simpler for members of the community. Once the College became single stream, students designed a single-stream sticker that was applied to the recycling containers on campus to help educate users, according to Radosti.
The College has been implementing a multi-year project to place exterior recycling containers next to every exterior trash container. These containers have specific lids and lid decals that detail what should be placed in them for recycling.
Prior to single-stream recycling, the various types of recyclables needed to be disposed of in separate recycling containers, which created more opportunities for recycling containers to be contaminated.
Radosti also highlighted how the College is attempting to reduce carbon emissions.
“The College carefully monitors the natural gas and electricity that we purchase and are always looking at ways to improve our energy performance,” she said. “The College tracks our energy use through our Key Performance
Indicators. In order to normalize the data over time, we use the internationally recognized “‘Energy Usage Index’” metric and have a goal to reduce our EUI by 10 percent from 2018 through the end of 2020.”
Radosti explained that some of the strategies that the College uses involve replacing inefficient light sources with more efficient ones, setting back or turning off equipment during periods when buildings are empty and improving insulation and building facades.
The biggest contributor to the campus’s overall efficiency is the TCNJ central utility plant that has a Heat Recovery Steam Generator. The HRSG uses natural gas to make electricity and then collects all of the wasted heat from that process to make steam, which helps heat all of the buildings. This works even in the summertime – the College has steam-powered air conditioning equipment and does not rely solely on electricity-powered equipment.
Missy Greenberg, a senior sociology major and sustainability sales intern for Sodexo, has noticed the efforts the College has taken toward becoming a green community.
“I think that (the College) is doing pretty well from an environmental standpoint,” Greenberg said. “In just two short years here, I have seen so many amazing environmental initiatives that I didn’t see at my previous college. I think we’re still a long way from perfect, but I am happy that (the College) is trying at all.”
Greenberg also commented on the progress of recycling at the College.
“Our recycling program is good, but I think it could be better,” she said. “The fact that we do single-stream recycling is really great from a student standpoint. It takes the thinking out of the equation, and I know that recycling isn’t always the first thing on students’ minds.”
According to Greenberg, students need to be properly educated on the difference between trash and recycling.
“I would like to see more recycling education campus-wide, as I know a lot of people still aren’t sure exactly what can and cannot be recycled, which can still lead students to just throw something in the trash,” Greenberg said.
Throughout campus, there are brochures, flyers and stickers that promote recycling. Despite the College’s efforts to supply information, there is still a disconnect between students and the proper ways to recycle.
As a community adviser, senior biology major Madhav Patel said that he is knowledgeable about the College’s recycling efforts through his training with Residential Education.
“We had to do recycling training as CAs because it is important to help encourage our residents to recycle properly,” he said. “Some people still do not know which things to recycle or where to put their recyclables and it’s our duty to teach them.”
Although he has noticed improvements, Patel wants the College to place more of an emphasis on recycling.
“I think the College is doing better, but it can still make more of an effort to encourage students to recycle,” Patel said. “Recycling is one of those things everyone knows they should be doing, but it’s so easy not to. Putting more of an emphasis on encouraging students to recycle and doing it properly, or even creating fun initiatives to do so, would benefit the campus community a lot.”
The administration can emphasize recycling as much as it wants, but according to Patel, it is up to students to listen.
“Recycling is tough because so much of the process is invisible to us, but if we focus on educating students on their ecological footprints, we might be able to get more people involved,” Greenberg said. “The first step to caring about something is to learn about it.”
Patel stressed that when thinking about environmental issues, people must consider the conditions future generations will be forced to experience.
“As a biology major, we learn a lot about environmentalism and the largely negative impact humans have on ecology,” Patel said. “It gets frustrating sometimes because people like to focus on tiny actions that make them feel good about recycling … At the end of the day, (there are) major corporations still pumping tons of plastic and chemical waste into the ocean, and me switching to metal straws realistically won’t make even a drop of a difference.”
Although he is skeptical of significant change, Patel has hope for the future, as long as people do their part. It is up to members of the community to partake in recycling and cooperate with the College to become a more environmentally friendly campus.
“Real environmental action won’t take place until we hold these corporations and companies accountable for the huge damage they’re doing,” Patel said. “By choosing what corporations we give our business to as a college campus, and by getting politically active and voting, we still have a shot at stopping and reversing all the environmental damage we’ve done. We have to start now though, and as college students, we are in a good spot to do that.”