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Reduce, reuse, recycle

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Posted: Tuesday, April 22, 2008 9:00 pm

Craig Caudill, Gonzaga's Plant Services custodial manager of 14 years, has been getting a lot of questions lately about whether or not Gonzaga recycles.

His answer: yes ... and no.

Gonzaga's recycling services are provided by the City of Spokane's Solid Waste Management division, according to Caudill. Recycling bins are inside every office, classroom and on-campus housing common area.

Custodians remove all recyclables from inside to curbside daily, Caudill says, where the City picks up those materials on Mondays and Tuesdays. If the City misses a bin, they'll come back at no charge.

"I get really anal about it, honestly," Caudill said. "I stand there and watch to make sure they pick up the bins." Caudill personally ensures Plant Services checks Gonzaga bins twice a week.

Caudill says the biggest complaint students have, that custodians throws away all recyclables, is actually just a misconception.

Wednesday marked Plant Service's switch to using 100 percent recycled content liners for collecting recyclables, and black liners to collect trash.

In the past, custodians used the same kind of clear liners for collecting trash and recycling. Since all bags are transported in a single cart, the difference students couldn't see at a glance was that trash bags were tied closed for the Dumpsters, recycling bags were left open to place into City bins. That should now be clear.

"We're trying to create the right perception, so people can see what's being done in the community," Caudill says.

However, some recycling does get trashed: contaminated recycling.

Gonzaga's biggest contamination offenses include materials with leftover food residue (un-rinsed bottles, pizza boxes, etc.), plastic bags and lids from plastic bottles ending up in recycling bins. Even shredded, torn or crumpled paper is considered a contamination risk, says the city's recycling hotline.

If the city finds contaminating materials in Gonzaga recycling, it won't take any part of the bin. With 84 buildings to service daily, custodial doesn't have the time to separate out contaminants that are placed in recycling.

That means the onus is on the Gonzaga community.

About 25-33 percent of Gonzaga recycling is contaminated, Caudill says, mostly from academic buildings like College Hall.

City auditors have found anywhere from 33-50 percent of dumpster content is recyclable, and still Gonzaga recycles so much that the City picks up on average an extra five to 10 90-gallon bins each week, mostly from dorms and student apartments.

"Students have made a great effort," Caudill says. "They've gotten better and better the last three years."

The University pays a fee to the City regardless of whether it uses their facilities, like Spokane homeowners. During the 2006 fiscal year, recycling at Gonzaga reduced disposal costs by $233,421.26. Preliminary estimations show these figures will be even bigger for 2007.

As for using a private recycling company, Caudill says only a few will pick up on-site, and only at one or two locations. The City picks up at over 60 locations on campus each week. Earthworks, one private company, offered to build Gonzaga a centrally-located shed, but with 949 volume tons of recycling generated over one fiscal year, that's an average of 2.6 tons of recycling each day that Plant Services would need to haul from inside the buildings to curbside locations, then to that central location.

"That's a huge shed," Caudill says, and the manpower needed isn't cost-effective.

Caudill predicts Gonzaga's next option is sustainability. Plant Services has started this process, using motion and heat-activated fluorescents, nightly turning back thermostats in large buildings such as Foley Library and using vacuums that filter out air particles as small as .03 microns (a strand of hair is 50-100 microns thick).

Other Gonzaga student groups have come to the same conclusion. GEO's most recent food scrape yielded 143 pounds of unused food, according to member Laura Street. The informal trial-run Gonzaga chapter for the national Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education has only been in existence since November, but its adviser Dr. Phil Appel and sophomore president Taylor Hall have ambitious plans to bring the talk of sustainability on campus to fruition.

With student involvement and dialogue, Caudill has high hopes for keeping Gonzaga environmentally-conscious. "We as a community can certainly always grow with recycling, and we're volumes beyond where we were several years ago."

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