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Beyond 4,000: Recycling program measures progress in tons of trash

By Dan Heuchert

When Dennis Clark came to the University 2 1/2 years ago to oversee Facilities Management's recycling program, he issued a challenge: if the University could divert half of its waste stream to recycling or reuse, he would quit his job.

"I told my staff that when we get to 50 percent, they aren't going to need me," Clark said.

U.Va. recyclers
Photos by Stephanie Gross
As part of the University's recycling program, Facilities Management workers Roland Taylor (left) and Milton Vaughan (center) pick up paper and bottles -- both plastic and glass -- from offices on Grounds and take them to the U.Va. recycling center on Alderman Road.

While there's still a way to go, Clark might want to start looking at the help-wanted ads. The latest figures show that the University diverted 37.2 percent of its waste stream in 1999, well above the state-mandated 25 percent level and light years ahead of the 5.4 percent diverted in 1991.

Clark insists that despite keeping more than 4,000 tons of materials out of landfills in 1999 alone, he's not yet concerned for his job. His staff, though, is "getting anxious."

"They're going out there trying to bring stuff in twice," he joked.

Call him a recycling evangelist. Clark travels from department to department around Grounds, preaching the virtues of stuff that others believe has outlived its usefulness. His energetic talks are spiced with humor and fortified by statistics -- "85 percent of all stuff generated by the average American is divertable in one way or another, "60 percent of our waste stream is paper" -- and punctuated by handouts of pamphlets and plastic "UVA Recycles!" mugs to attendees who correctly answer questions.

The mugs feature the U.Va. Recycling motto: "There are better places for education dollars than filling a hole in the ground."

"That slogan is very key to the whole operation," he declared. Estimating that it costs the University $75 per ton for trash removal, including pickup, transportation and landfill fees, he said last year's 4,000-ton diversion saved U.Va. approximately $300,000. "Recycling is not free, but it is a lot cheaper than throwing it away as trash," he said.

Apart from financial arguments, the University has a moral obligation to lead society in being good stewards of the Earth, he said, before playing the ultimate U.Va. trump card: "Thomas Jefferson would certainly be on this bandwagon." The Recycling Program's efforts go far beyond merely collecting plastic, paper and aluminum. More material -- including sinks, toilets, window glass and building materials -- is being salvaged from buildings slated for demolition, to be reused or sold at surplus property auctions. Space for recycling is being planned into new construction on Grounds. More convenient recycling areas have been established in student housing facilities. The program this year worked with the Athletic Department to push recycling at football and basketball games. "Comingled containers" that accept both aluminum cans and plastic drink bottles have replaced the messy, noisy, aluminum-only "canpactors" all around Grounds. Even fly ash from the University's coal-burning heating plants, which is shipped off for use as road-bed aggregate, is now counted in the recycling calculations.

There are plans to do more of the processing of recyclable materials on Grounds, which would also save money, Clark said.

The University even collects the No. 2 plastics (like detergent and shampoo bottles) that the city and county programs currently refuse. Clark invites University employees to bring their recyclables from home to the University sites at the Leake Building at 575 Alderman Road; on North Grounds, across from the Slaughter Recreation Center (soon to be spruced up); in the parking lot at the Lambeth Field Apartments; and behind Bryant Hall (currently with difficult access due to stadium construction).

Leave your non-recyclable garbage at home, though, Clark warned. Dumping it into U.Va.'s waste stream is "theft of service," he said.

The 50 percent target is attainable, Clark said, adding that it is even mandated for state agencies in some states, including California. Beyond developing new programs, though, he's still working on changing people's attitudes.

"I think there's a lot of apathy, a lot of people who feel this is below them," he said. "They don't understand that by just putting their trash in different containers they can save the institution a lot of money in [landfill] tipping fees."


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