The Voice: Summer 2003

The Voice

Senior research project studies recycling on campus

Brent Dieleman learned where all the dumpsites are on campus

By: Sally Jongsma

Brent Dieleman spent many late evenings in Dordt College dumpsters last semester. It’s not something he does regularly, but Dieleman was gathering information for his directed-research project. All senior environmental studies majors are required to choose a stewardship issue and investigate some concrete aspect of it. Dieleman, who is committed to recycling, decided to see how effective Dordt’s investment in recycling containers has been. At the same time, he hoped to raise awareness of recycling options on campus.

“I believe as Christians that we need to be stewardly in our use of the resources we’ve been given,” he says. “We don’t often enough think about how finite the many resources we take for granted are,” he adds.

Dieleman focused on how much of the corrugated cardboard, number one and two plastic, clear glass, and aluminum—all items collected for recycling by the local sanitation service—were actually recycled on campus. He did not look at paper since a study was done on paper a few years ago.

He distributed a questionnaire asking people across campus to list what they purchased per week to gain a benchmark figure to compare to what he found in the dumpsters. Students were helpful in returning the questionnaires; faculty and staff offices were less so, probably because they don’t do as much of the purchasing themselves, he says. He also contacted vendors of all vending machines on campus to get figures on the numbers of cans put into the machines.

Dieleman then went through each dumpster every night during one week in September and one in October to sift through the contents. Donning gloves and some protective clothing, he examined the dumpster late each evening.

“The dumpsters are emptied very early each morning so I figured that if I went through them late at night I’d get a pretty accurate picture,” he says. He pulled out everything that was recyclable, put it in bags, weighed them—and then recycled them, of course.

“It took a whole month to get through all the dumpsters and gather all of the data,” Dieleman says.

His results were more encouraging in some areas than others. He concluded that Dordt College students do a very good job of recycling aluminum cans. Ninety-five percent of those purchased appeared to be recycled. Cardboard was recycled at a rate of eighty percent. Recycling rates for plastic and glass, however, fell to thirty percent.

“I expected plastic to be higher, but maybe because you have to rinse it out, people don’t take the time to do it,” Dieleman says. He suspects that part of the reason is that students don’t always take the time to figure out what is recyclable and what isn’t. Everyone knows aluminum cans can be recycled—plus they carry a deposit. But only some kinds of plastic can be recycled locally.

Dieleman’s wrote about his results in a paper that he presented in a campus forum at the end of the semester. He also sent a copy to the vice president for business affairs and is considering submitting an article to the Diamond, the student newspaper.

Because Dieleman believes it is his responsibility to recycle, he tries to purchase products that can be recycled locally. For example, he tries to avoid buying brands that package in plastic that doesn’t have a number one or two on the bottom of the container since they can’t be recycled locally. He also tries to buy items in clear glass and avoid products that have excessive packaging.

Sometimes that means paying a few cents more.

“Financial stewardship is important but so is stewardship of resources,” he says. “And if we don’t use resources responsibly, prices will go very high later as the resources become more scarce.” If many people followed these guidelines, it could make a considerable difference in use of resources over time, Dieleman says.

Although financial reasons aren’t the main reason an institution like Dordt College should recycle, it does give some incentive. Cutting out what Dieleman estimates to be about five tons of trash not only means less trash in the landfill but also the elimination of the $75 fee it costs to dump it there.

Dieleman says Dordt College does a good job of providing opportunities to recycle the products that can be recycled locally, but he would like the whole community to continue to think about how they can do more. He suggests that a list of recyclable items be fixed to each container in the apartments and that more recycling dumpsters be added so that it is easier for students to recycle—especially in the winter. The need for such action will become more and more evident, he believes, as time goes on and the world’s resources become more scarce and expensive.