Odis Morrow sorts through items at the Razorback Recycling center. Outdated policy and poor signage can lead to recycling contamination, making Morrow’s and other workers’ jobs difficult. 

The UofA has committed to becoming a zero-waste institution by 2040, according to the Office for Sustainability, and campus recycling programs constitute a large part of this commitment. However, vague policy has led to confusion for students eager to recycle on campus.

The Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration’s website lists Fayetteville Policies and Procedures 721.0 as the official policy for campus recycling. It states that Facilities Management custodial services operates Razorback Recycling, collecting recyclables from educational and general purpose facilities, auxiliaries and student living groups. The policy was created in 1995 and has not been revised since 2002, which may account for some discrepancies between statements in the policy and recycling practices today.

Many students, such as freshman Brianna Ifland, take advantage of the on-campus recycling options but feel the outdated policy does not allow students to recycle as much as they could.

“I think that not having clear guidelines or having a lot of those discrepancies discourages students from recycling because they’d rather err on the side of caution,” Ifland said. “I wonder how often perfectly good recyclable material is thrown in the waste because students aren’t well educated.”

Razorback Recycling supervisor Gary Enzor said there are four key elements to a successful recycling program: policy, plan, service and education, with policy laying the foundation for three remaining tenets.

“That’s a key first step,” Enzor said. “What is it? What are we trying to do here? Who’s responsible?”

In 2022, Razorback Recycling collected 167 tons of recyclables — a considerable amount, but the lowest since 1995, according to data Enzor provided. He postulates that the decline in recycled materials has to do with campus officials’ efforts toward zero waste, such as encouragement of responsible departmental purchases and increased materials available online — a win for university sustainability efforts.

However, with fewer efforts focused toward recycling education and more toward waste aversion, student awareness of recycling policy is waning, Enzor said.

Further, different sources gave conflicting answers as to how exactly recycling on campus is managed.

Todd Hansen, the office manager for the Office for Sustainability, echoed the assertion that Razorback Recycling handles it on campus.

However, Enzor contends that there are separate programs that handle recycling for University Housing, the Arkansas Union and sporting facilities — Razorback Recycling only picks up at education and general purpose facilities. The Facilities Management site backs that up.

Additionally, the city code makes no mention of collection of plastic bottles, even though they are listed on the Office for Sustainability site and are actively recycled on campus.

Students must discern between campus and city recycling policies as well, because the city of Fayetteville accepts different recyclables than the on-campus programs.

“It’s unfortunate, the disparities between our recycling systems,” Hansen said.

Even with conflicting responses as to exactly what portion of campus Razorback Recycling handles, it remains an important program. It collects white and mixed paper, cans, bottles, cardboard and fluorescent lights. Large, labeled bins are available in various locations around campus.

Additionally, multi-sort desk-side bins are available upon request for office workers, who will provide receptacles for white paper, mixed paper, and mixed cans and bottles.

At the Razorback Recycling facilities, workers ensure that the quality of the recyclables stays intact. The workers further separate the white and mixed paper before baling it. A recycling broker directly receives the collected cans and bottles.

A garbage truck repurposed to collect cardboard recycling drives to and from the facilities. A specialized worker handles the fluorescent lights to ensure they can be safely recycled. The high involvement of the workers in the recycling process leads to quality recyclables with low contamination rates, Enzor said.

With Razorback Recycling producing largely uncontaminated recyclables, the question arises of whether collection methods are uniform across campus. Single-stream recycling, which means the collection of all recycled material in one stream, as opposed to dual-stream or other sorted collection methods, leads to much higher contamination rates, according to local recycling advocate Louise Mann and her website, Waste Reduction Resources

Increased contamination raises risks for workers who are trying to maintain the quality of their recyclables and are already faced with demanding and potentially dangerous work, Mann said. Fatal accidents have been reported from single-stream recycling centers, such as one 2018 incident involving a worker in New York. The worker was pulled into the conveyor belt while trying to remove a piece of plastic.

Those who collect contaminated recycling can be exposed to a range of hazards — a dead body was found on the conveyor of a recycling center in Fayetteville in 2020.

“Contamination rates are determined by collection method,” Mann said. “When you do recycle, by golly, you need accountability and transparency.”

Enzor explained how the workers separate the mixed paper from the white paper, and pointed out the non-recyclables present in the bins of paper throughout the facilities, pulling a pen from one.

“On a good day it looks about 80%,” Enzor said, “and we haven’t seen many good days very recently. We’re not getting enough education out.”

Contamination also stems from confusing signage present near recycling bins, Hansen said.

“If it’s contaminated, it’s usually because the signage wasn’t good enough,” Hansen said. “Usually it’s the bins, and that’s something our office has worked on, trying to get all of the bins around campus to be co-located together, so you have your options for trash and the other recycling options.”

Even with improvements in signage, policies remain vague and outdated, leaving students to look forward to increased sustainability efforts on campus, including updated and clearer recycling initiatives and increased education.

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