Graduate student research aims to streamline recycling

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Photo of grad student Kate Binder next to new recycling bin.

Binder shows off one of her new collection bins.

KALAMAZOO--A Western Michigan University graduate student is hoping to encourage recycling on campus with a new placement and design of collection bins.

Located in Brown Hall, the bins are part of a pilot waste collection program that includes the removal of trashcans from classrooms and new signage to help students separate the waste items that can be recycled from the ones that are destined for landfill.

They are the result of an ongoing research study started during spring session by Katherine Binder, a graduate assistant in the Office for Sustainability, as part of her master's degree thesis. Under Binder's direction, the bin and signage were developed by two Office for Sustainability undergraduate interns and data are collected daily by psychology and environmental studies undergraduate research assistants.

Binder, of Bay City, Mich., is studying to earn her master's degree in psychology; and she has a bachelor's degree in psychology from WMU.

"Mostly, it's a way to streamline recycling on campus," she says. "Removing trash cans and recycling bins from the classroom and placing larger, all-inclusive bins in the hallway reduces the resources needed to collect waste while increasing the amount of recycling collected. Before, most classrooms only had bins for trash and paper recycling. The hallway bins have an additional opening for bottles and cans so now anytime someone approaches a bin to throw something out, they have all of the options in front of them."

The language on the new trash bins, identifying the waste as headed for a landfill, also is a cue to people to be more conscience of recycling, she adds.

"Before, we found that 20 to 30 percent of the trash that was being thrown away was actually recyclable. With the new pilot program, we're down to 5 to 10 percent," Binder says.

The Office for Sustainability posted a Brown Hall Waste Receptacle Survey on its website to gauge the effectiveness of the new bins on users' ease and likelihood to recycle. Results from Binder's project and other campus recycling research efforts will be used in the development of a Universitywide recycling and waste reduction master plan.

To participate in the survey, visit wmich.edu/sustainability.