As Earth Day approaches, students may be considering how to reduce their environmental impact, and some have noted a lack of accessible recycling options at Fayetteville apartment complexes.
The city government provides recycling services to approximately 21,000 homes, but only six large apartment complexes, Fayetteville Environmental Educator Heather Ellzey said. Many complexes catering specifically to students, including The Marshall and The Academy at Frisco, do not have space to house the large containers the city uses for recycling collection.
“At the apartments, we have our large container boxes at six of the larger properties,” Ellzey said. “They are really big though — like, they're giant So it's really hard to find properties that can accommodate them.”
Those who live in buildings without collection containers must either throw away their recyclables or drive to one of the city’s two recycling drop-off centers. Senior Alexa Moreno became accustomed to recycling while living on campus her freshman year, she said. She moved to The Marshall earlier this school year and now must put in that extra effort to continue recycling.
Moreno empties about 10 cardboard boxes, a few egg cartons and other recyclable materials on a weekly basis, she said. She collects this waste and feels responsible for making sure it reaches a recycling center rather than a landfill. The Marshall does not offer recycling on its property, so Moreno drives to a drop-off center every few weeks to deposit her collected materials.
“I don't know anyone in this building that actually puts in the effort to recycle,” Moreno said. “I know my roommates just throw everything away.”
Representatives of the Marshall did not respond to requests for comment.
While visiting a recycling plant with classmates for one of her courses, Moreno was surprised to learn how much material cannot be recycled in Fayetteville, she said. Many items that students deposit at centers or drop in bins without knowing they are non-recyclable, including pizza boxes and plastic containers that are not bottles, end up in the landfill.
Even in apartment complexes that have large recycling containers, recycling the wrong things continues to be a problem, Ellzey said. The constant movement of students into and out of apartment buildings makes educating them about recycling a difficult endeavor.
“Re-educating people has been really difficult,” Ellzey said. “We actually have new containers out now that are color coded, and have really awesome graphics that have helped. But there's still definitely people coming from outside of the city and the state, and different recycling programs, and they don't understand ours.”
For example, the city of Fayetteville can only accept "number one" plastics — the type used most often in food and beverage containers — in the form of bottles. The city’s weekly, bin-based curbside recycling pick-up program, which is offered to all Fayetteville properties excluding some apartment buildings, allows for sorting before materials even reach a recycling plant. Recycling truck drivers often do such sorting before carting the recyclables to the plant, but cannot do so with the containers at large apartment complexes, Ellzey said.
Smaller apartment complexes are a different story, Ellzey said. The city launched a small-apartment recycling program about one year ago, in which a building’s tenants are able to use seven smaller bins inside the complex rather than one large one outside.
Someone representing the apartment building must then collect, sort and move the recycling to the curb for a city driver to sift through, Ellzey said. This program, while effective at collecting renters’ recyclable materials, has been slow to catch on.
“It's really difficult trying to find somebody at the complex that's willing to be an advocate and make sure the materials are sorted and clean and brought out to the curb,” Ellzey said. “A lot of the complexes don't want these bins just sitting out front. So getting somebody to bring them out to the curb is always a challenge.”
Sophomore Rachell Sanchez-Smith lives in a unit at Garden Park Apartments, a participating complex in the small-apartment recycling program. Despite the more convenient bin collection setup, she still has trouble figuring out what she can and cannot recycle, she said.
Although Sanchez-Smith feels motivated to recycle, she is disappointed by how many materials get taken to the landfill despite citizens’ best efforts, she said. Additionally, she is disheartened that so many complexes do not offer recycling options at all.
“I feel like all Fayetteville people, most people, are a little bit more environmentally conscious,” Sanchez-Smith said. “It's important. So I wish the student housing (complexes) would place more emphasis on it.”
Aside from its positive environmental impact, recycling provides a great benefit to the city, Ellzey said. The money made from selling the materials to private companies goes back into the waste management budget and the larger municipal budget to be used for city projects and education.
Although there can be high costs and annoying inconveniences associated with it, recycling in Fayetteville is of paramount importance, Ellzey said.
“It's mainly to just conserve resources,” Ellzey said. “Right now, it's estimated that humans are using almost two times the resources that the Earth can create. We are jeopardizing future generations at this point based on our resource consumption.”