Material Management on campus and SOU’s Recycling Center Revamp
Written by: Sarah Ross, Student Zero Waste Coordinator
Have you ever thought about where your trash goes on campus? Did you know that Southern Oregon University has an on-campus recycling center? Built in 2011, the Recycling Center was founded through a student capstone project, and its main focus is to divert waste from the landfill. Student workers at the Recycling Center hand-sort materials to make sure that the highest quality material for recycling leaves campus. SOU’s Recycling Center has run successfully throughout the years, but SOU’s community, campus, and waste streams have changed. Now, almost ten years later, it’s time to “upcycle” the building itself! The refurbishment, redesign, renovation and expansion process of the Recycling Center will allow a greater number of materials to be reduced, reused, and recycled on campus.
The goal of managing our materials sustainably at SOU
At SOU, we aim to sustainably manage all materials that enter and leave our campus. We are currently updating our sustainable purchasing policy to help make decisions about the materials and products that come on to campus. Our transactions can influence innovation, social equity, the resilience of a supply chain, jobs in a local economy, greenhouse gas emissions, and our university’s environmental impact.
Source: Material Management, Department of Environmental Quality, Oregon
Material management is ultimately accomplished by maximizing the sustainable use of resources throughout their life cycle, including minimizing the materials’ environmental impact. Material Management can also be referred to as “Circular Economy” or “Zero-Waste”.
“Where we source our materials and products from, the types of materials and products we bring on to campus, and how we manage them at the end of their life has environmental, social, and economic implications for SOU.”
– Becs Walker, SOU Sustainability Manager
But what exactly are materials? The State of Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) defines materials as non-fuel items. These can also be thought of as tangible goods including paper, cans, wood, glass, and metal.
Why is it important to do our part?
Living in the “material world” that we do, our product use directly influences the natural environment. The DEQ states that a material’s life cycle — which includes extracting, manufacturing, transporting, and disposal — directly relates to the water we drink, the air we breathe, our area’s soil quality, and the health of ecosystems. Globally we are seeing higher consumption rates, over-packaged goods, and endless single-use plastic.
College campuses are one of the easiest places to throw things out. Students move in and out, bringing in and throwing out trash along the way. It can become easy for students to disregard what they throw out while learning to adapt to living in a university environment, alongside school and social lives. However, what’s important to remember is that our individual habits become part of a larger scale. Collectively, the campus is where we can instill these habits within our school community. Recycling and reuse habits carry out into our greater community, continue as we grow older, and create a ripple effect as we travel in our lives. At Southern Oregon University we can set an example for environmental stewardship.
SOU is fortunate to have a Recycling Center on campus. In 2019, SOU recycled 46% of its trash, which amounted to 370 tons! Recycling benefits the economy, society, and the environment. The Recycling Center creates student jobs, reduces the university’s carbon footprint, and keeps the recycled resources in the economy and out of the landfill. In addition to this, the university gets reimbursed for some of the materials it recycles, and in other cases saves money where recycling costs less than sending materials to the landfill.
Revamping the Recycling Center
The revamp of SOU’s Recycling Center includes keeping the legacy of the center’s humble beginnings while also adapting the center to evolve with Southern Oregon University. The good news is, the renovation process has begun! Previously, the Recycling Center was located in only one-third of the existing building. We have now expanded the center throughout the entire building, to allow more space to recycle a greater number of materials on campus.
Throughout the redesign process, we have been mindfully choosing materials to revamp the center. By using locally sourced and low environmental impact materials to reconstruct the center, the building itself will be a symbol for recycling, reducing, and reusing. So far, we have salvaged building materials and shelving from other projects, and have also installed three reclaimed windows from old buildings. These windows will introduce natural light into the space, which will help to reduce electricity usage. We will continue to sort through the commingled recycling in the Center, and, with the newfound space from the expansion, we will set up new workstations to recycle books and strip wire to recover the valuable metal. We have also sourced sustainable organic insulation and will be giving the center a paint job to match SOU’s Sustainability colors.
What can you do?
The best thing we can all do is reduce the amount of materials we consume and therefore the amount of trash we produce. We can do this by:
- Reusing items where possible
- Reducing consumption of unnecessary materials
- Repairing and repurposing items
We can also purchase products containing recycled materials or materials that are easily recyclable. This demand creates a supply and gives the consumer purchasing power.
At SOU we have a recycling system in place, and it is awesome to see the SOU Community using blue, red, and black containers. We also recycle other materials, including wood, metal, marker pens, batteries, ink toners and cartridges, and electronic waste.
For information on what can be recycled on campus and where to recylce:
Now, have you thought about where your trash goes on campus? You can make choices every day to reuse, remake, reduce, rethink, repurpose, re-wear, recycle, or refuse! What happens on SOU’s campus is up to you!
If you have any ideas about what more we can do to sustainably manage materials across campus and increase our diversion from landfills, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To follow updates about the Recycling Center and learn more about sustainability follow @sustainability_sou on Instagram! Or learn more about sustainability and recycling at Southern Oregon University at https://sustainability.sou.edu.