LSU inches closer to recycling goal with help of campus green initiatives | News

Savannah Porter spent three hours picking up plastic on Nicholson Drive last month.

“Even if it didn’t appear that it had been outside for that long, it was breaking down,” Porter, a veterinary medicine student, said. “If you found a plastic fork and you went to pick it up, it disintegrated into a bunch of microplastics.”

The cleanup was one of a handful of programs Porter participates in aimed at minimizing waste on campus. These projects contribute to a broader goal of the university: to recycle 75 percent of its waste by 2030.

Tammy Millican, executive director of facility and property oversight, presides over Campus Sustainability, the organization on campus spearheading its recycling program.

“It’s the right thing to do for our campus community,” Millican said. “When we teach our students those great habits, they go with them when they leave.”

The city and LSU both recycle through a private company called Republic Services.Baton Rouge is the only city in the state that utilizes single stream recycling, where all recyclables are placed in one bin and picked up curbside.

“Then they are brought to the Materials Recovery Facility where the materials are sorted, and processed as recyclables,” said Mark Armstrong, chief communications officer for the City of Baton Rouge. “Last year, 2021, the City of Baton Rouge recycled 11,800 tons of recyclable materials.”

The university’s recycling efforts don’t end there. Millican said the school partners with several other companies, so that as much waste as possible can be reused.

Student workers collect batteries, printer ink cartridges and other electronic waste to be recycled, and Campus Sustainability provides options to recycle construction waste when new buildings go up. Food waste in kitchens on campus is sent to be converted to animal food.

“The amount of recycling that takes place is increasing,” Millican said. “And it’s happening in more creative ways.”

When Campus Sustainability was founded in 2008, the campus was recycling around 20 percent of its waste. In 2021, it was up to 40 percent. Millican said part of their success has been keeping their recycling initiatives responsive. When the pandemic happened, they created provisions for personal protective equipment.

“We noticed that there was a lot of PPE and masks and stuff on the ground,” Millican said. “So we found a company that could recycle the PPE.”

Millican said that in order to get to their 75 percent goal, the campus also has to embrace zero waste options as much as she can. Campus Sustainability talks with organizations on campus about ways to host zero waste events.

“You can use glasses and not a lot of plastic utensils,” Millican said. “You could also use a PowerPoint presentation instead of printing signage and information.”

Millican said that these kinds of changes are more about the campus’ mindset and require the entire LSU community to buy into avoiding waste from the start.

At the veterinary school, Porter and some other students started an initiative with a recycling program called NexTrex. They placed 10 specialized recycling bins around the school.

“They could collect all the plastics that were otherwise non recyclable,” Porter said. “So if it’s stretchy and quiet versus loud and crinkly, it can go in our recycling bins.”

Plastics bottles for things like drinks and lotion can be rinsed and recycled in typical recycling bins. The NexTrex bins provide a space for plastic shopping bags and cling wrap to be recycled.

When the bins collect 500 pounds of plastic, NexTrex gives a park bench to the campus. The veterinary school earned its first bench in six months. Porter said they’re a month into their second round, and they’ve collected 100 pounds of plastic so far. She hopes to expand the program to the whole campus.

“It could really be a much bigger program,” Porter said. “The school as a whole could get behind it, and the school could actually end up making money from it.”

Porter also participated in a program that collects grocery bags and plastic bottles. The bags are used to pack the water bottles, turning them into ecobricks, which can be used to build houses and other structures.

“You can fit about 50 plastic grocery bags into one plastic water bottle,” Porter said. “If you do it correctly, you fill up this water bottle, and then put the lid back on it and it’s become a brick because it’s so packed with other plastics.”

Porter said that she wishes there was more overlap between the work she does at the veterinary school and the efforts of Campus Sustainability.

“There’s a lot of sustainability initiatives on campus that aren’t brought over to the vet school,” Porter said. “My goal is by the time I’m gone to have gotten some of those (programs) brought over.”

Porter would like to see some of Campus Sustainability’s dining initiatives carried over to the veterinary school. The office established a composting program for post-consumer waste, and they partnered with businesses on campus like CC’s Coffee to offer discounts to students who bring reusable containers for their drinks.

“We want to find ways to make it part of everybody’s day,” Millican said.

Porter said she talks about the convenience of certain sustainable options when she encourages others to reduce waste and recycle. She said that can be more compelling than overwhelming or lecturing them.

“I don’t think it’s OK to shame anybody,” Porter said. “The biggest thing is education, and showing people how easy it can be.”

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