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Izzy Pipa

Letter to the Editor: Does UVM need more waste bins?

November 9, 2021

Ali Drew ‘22 Eco-Reps Writing Manager

I am writing in response to Spencer Hurlburt’s recently published Cynic column on “UVM needs more waste bins.”

Students often share their concern about the lack of outdoor bins for trash and recycling, as well as limited compost receptacles in residence halls, with Eco-Reps, UVM Recycling and Zero Waste and the Office of Sustainability. I am writing to answer these frequently asked questions and explain what needs to be done in order to create a culture of zero waste at UVM – instead of simply adding more bins.

We have not had exterior trash bins for about 15 years at UVM, and that is intentional! Research has found that outdoor bins need to be emptied very frequently, so adding outdoor bins would require hiring more staff. Exterior bins can lead to more litter due to overflowing containers and wind spreading trash across the ground. Also, rodents and insects are attracted to these outdoor bins. 

Sustainability is not just about environmental impact; social impacts need to be considered, too. It is not an equitable solution for custodians, some of UVM’s most overworked and lowest-paid employees, to be burdened with maintaining additional infrastructure just to accommodate students who want a slightly more convenient place to dispose of something.

Hurlburt is correct in stating that the Universal Recycling Law in Vermont (Act 148) mandates the separation of compostable and recyclable items, and yes, we are following this law in the Davis Center. But we are also following this law on our entire campus because our campus is considered one entity, not evaluated at a building-by-building level. 

Sustainable materials management is a priority for UVM. Through three decades of campus-wide initiatives to recycle, compost and promote zero waste principles, the total quantity of waste generated on campus has decreased and our diversion rate has increased. In an average week, UVM diverts 15 tons of food scraps and compostable products, “organics,” from the landfill and turns them into nutrient-rich compost.

The amount of food scraps being thrown into trash bins in residence halls is also a common student concern that they propose be fixed by adding more compost bins in waste rooms. 

Turns out that residence hall compostables are just a tiny fraction of the 15 tons of organics UVM sends to the compost facility each week and the issue is more about communication than convenience. Eco-Rep surveys have shown that many students don’t know they can compost in their building.

We already have all the processes and materials. It’s just about making the connections between students, faculty and staff to communicate clear and succinct messages that get updated as things change.

Instead of adding more bins, let’s do a better job promoting non-littering and composting to our community. Let’s all take personal responsibility for trash on campus. It’s going to take everybody being part of the solution to make it work.

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