Recycling at Oberlin
Student Employees Educate Campus on Sustainability
The college employs students engaged in a variety of efforts related to reducing the use of resources on campus. Student volunteers organized by OPIRG began recycling at the college back in 1989. In 1993, the college took control of managing the recycling program. Since 1996, a group of about 10 student employees called the Resource Conservation Team (formerly the College Recycling Assistants) have been employed part-time by the Facilities Operations Department. The RCT works on a wide range of resource-use reduction initiatives and manage Oberlin College’s comprehensive recycling program. One of their main campaigns at the moment is addressing paper consumption. They have put together a separated-stream paper-only recycling bin system to decrease the contamination of paper to be recycled, met with the staff who purchase office supplies in each department to encourage the purchase of recycled-content paper, have worked to have campus printers default to double-sided, and will conduct a comprehensive study of the campus waste stream and work to improve recycling.
Since the late 1990’s, another group called the Campus Dining Service Recyclers have employed a few students at a similar number of hours per week. The CDS Recyclers work primarily in the dining halls and initiate waste-reducing projects such as waste audits, assessment of packaging options, and a composting program. The CDS Recyclers educate students and staff in the dining halls about reducing resource use in particular through reducing food and packaging waste.
Big Swap and Free Store
At the end of spring and fall semesters, the Resource Conservation Team (RCT) hold a campus-wide event called “The Big Swap.” Through the Big Swap, the RCT collects hundreds of bags of clothing, books, furniture, and domestic items. The items are collected from each dorm and taken to a centralized location in the student union building. For about a week, the RCT keeps everything that has been collected in this main space and people are able to come and take items they can put to use. At the end of that week, RCT then takes the remaining items to local charities. This greatly reduces the number of useful items entering the waste stream when students clean out their dorm rooms and off-campus houses at the end of each semester.
Through the Big Swap in May 2012, there were over 500 bags of materials collected and diverted from the landfill. RCT also collected items during Commensement week; this amounted to ~615 bags collected, along with a 16 ft. trailer filled with furniture and household items. All of these items were taken to local charity organizations for reuse.
While in the past this swap only took place twice a semester, the Free Store now has a permanent space in the basement of Pyle where reusable items of all kinds can be donated or taken for reuse. The new Free Store had its grand opening in February 2007, but has since been remodeled with brand new layout for 2012-2013. It provides an excellent avenue for reuse of materials on campus, diverting useful items from the landfill and consequently reducing the extraction of natural resources. At the same time, it provides items at no cost to students.
Carpet Recycling and Vendor Selection
Oberlin College both purchases and recycles all of the carpet on campus through Legacy Flooring. In 2003 the college won the State of Ohio Department of Administrative Services STS Recycler of the Year Award for the amount of carpet it recycled. From 2003-2006, Oberlin recycled 177,057 square feet of used carpet (equal to 111,507 lbs). According to the Antron Reclamation Program Calculator, this is equivalent to a savings of 208.8 cubic yards of landfill space, 112,136.1 gallons of water, 184,434.4 pounds of CO2, and 1,227,418,143 BTUs of energy. When carpet must be removed from a building, all of it is recycled. Oberlin then purchases the “new" product from the same company. Through recycling its old carpets and in turn buying carpet from the company, Oberlin reduces the necessity to extract new resources by both keeping its old carpet out of landfills and also helping to create economic demand for recycled-content carpets.