J500 Media and the Environment

Spring Flowers Yield to Trash Towers by jenh
May 7, 2008, 12:30 pm
Filed under: Waste + Recycling | Tags: , , , , ,

Jen Humphrey

Ah, May in a college town. You might think of graduation, flowers blooming, the start of summer vacations.

How about the not so beautiful sight of Dumpsters overflowing with couches, jeans and junk food wrappers?

The City of Lawrence figures that during the ginormous trash month of May, Lawrencians toss out a staggering 7,243 tons of trash, or 14.5 million pounds for you math-challenged out there. That’s enough to fill more than 600 of the average trash trucks that rumble down your street or alley.

Those trucks haul the food packaging, discarded Britney Spears CDs, soiled mattresses and abandoned Royals t-shirts to Hamm Waste Services in Jefferson County, north of Lawrence. They also abscond with a lot of the good stuff people toss, like still-useable cameras, televisions and cell phones.

All told, in 2007, the citizens and businesses of Lawrence added 72,703 tons of trash – roughly the weight of 10 Eiffel Towers – to the Hamm facility.

But there would be more trash headed to the landfill if the City of Lawrence didn’t offer incentives to recycle materials, especially yard waste and paper products. In fact, the city boasts the highest recycling rate in Kansas, at 34 percent.

What makes reducing waste in Lawrence such a challenge, however, is the transient nature of a college town. In Lawrence, 50 percent of all housing is rental. Students shed residence hall life or graduate from the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University. And every time they move out or move in, they leave belongings at the curb or bulging out of Dumpsters.

On top of all that movement, advertising available city and local recycling services can fall on deaf ears. The information has to be repeated year-round, every year.

KU, which has a thriving recycling program started in the mid 1990s, tackles part of the waste staff and students generate. The university offers a surplus property program, headed by Celeste Hoins of the KU Environmental Stewardship Program, that collects unwanted furniture on campus to offer it to area nonprofits. KU also has a Center for Sustainability, a kind of clearinghouse of resources to help the university reach for a more sustainable future.

The state university can’t offer services down the hill in the high-density “student ghetto,” where the city’s garbage trucks have to patrol daily during peak move-out times. There’s no way to coordinate moving belongings abandoned at the curb to people looking for new stuff.

So, what’s the solution, you ask? It’s time to pitch in. Got a truck or a van? Advertise your services for a day to get some of that furniture to area donation centers. (Try trading pickup service for after move-in beer.) Or, if you’re willing to think big, consider forming a group that could collect such property and find a way to give it to charity or sell it to those who want it, just as the KU surplus property program manages to do on campus. And if you’re one of the people moving, plan ahead, and consider shopping for “new” belongings at the curb or at area used furniture dealers, instead of buying new. -Jen Humphrey

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