One of the biggest challenges of being an environmental studies major is promoting a sustainable lifestyle to others who may not have an environmental background. Convincing any group of people to make changes to their lifestyle is difficult enough. Last year, rumors spread around Lynchburg College that our campus does not recycle. This false information led students to conform to the wasteful, careless reputation that millennials have attained. When given a choice between an easy method and the best method, people tend to choose the easiest, quickest way instead of putting forth more effort to do the best way possible. Why do people toss recyclable materials into a garbage bin, when a recycling bin is right next to it? What causes this behavior and how can our campus community break these barriers?
In Doug McKenzie-Mohr’s Fostering Sustainable Behavior, he identifies a series of campaign styles that would most affect a group of people to change their behaviors. Mckenzie-Mohr writes that “we must concern ourselves with what leads individuals to engage in behavior that collectively is sustainable, and design our programs accordingly”. His identified campaign styles include economic self interest approaches and information campaigns, which in turn combine to form a community-based social marketing campaign. As a student, I have been exposed to the overall campus attitude toward recycling. In my opinion, the best way to approach to changing this situation is to use a combination of McKenzie- Mohr’s three campaigning strategies while focusing on community based social marketing.
The first step is to identify the barriers that prevent students from sustainable practices. From observation and interaction with the student body, I conclude that these barriers include access to recycling containers, consistent pickup of recycling, education of acceptable recyclable materials, and student support of recycling initiatives. With the help of the LC Student Government Association, we surveyed students to see what they thought about recycling on campus. We were able to get feedback from students about how recycling can be improved on campus. Many of the survey responses stated that there is a lack of information on what to put into the recycling bins as well as a lack of recycling bins on campus. This information will be useful to help our sustainability missions.
To break these barriers, I have been working with the college’s Grounds Crew, Dr. Henry-Stone, LC Environmental Sustainability Society, and Dining Services to promote sustainable practices on campus. As far as recycling, our team has planned to purchase brand new recycling containers that are customized for the Lynchburg College single stream recycling program. We agreed that having new bins would draw attention and lead students to realize that they can do their part in keeping our campus sustainable. This will increase student access to recycling containers and minimize waste. This week LCESS has been assisting me in handing out information about single stream recycling on campus. I will also hang informative posters above recycling bins. By having these posters visible in residence halls and all campus buildings, I hope that students will implement recycling into their daily routines.
Tackling recycling in the center of campus may be an easy fix, but how can we promote these initiatives to those who are distant to the center of campus? Although these students can request to have a personal recycling bin, it is difficult to keep track of locations of bins for students who live in houses, apartments, and townhouses. When discussing with the grounds crew, we decided it might be easier to create a communal drop off area for trash and recycling. In Peaksview apartments and the townhouses, there are wooden fence areas which contain mostly trash bins and one recycling bin. After purchasing new recycling bins, we would repurpose old bins for these recycling drop off stations. In order for this project to function, the students have to be informed and inclined to take out their trash and walk it over to the dropoff station. According to the grounds crew workers, it takes 4 hours for them to pick up trash on College and Lakewood streets alone. Students either do not leave their trash to pick up, or they produce so much waste that it overloads their trash bin. Instead of traveling house to house for pickup, the grounds crew would have to maintain three to four pickup locations. Three trash dropoffs would be located in the gravel lot area between College and Lakewood Streets. The last trash drop off location would be behind the houses on McCausland Street. The fences around the dropoffs would be color coded and divided so half would be blue for recycling and half would be red for trash. This project is currently being budgeted to determine the cost, and potentially will be purchased through solar energy credits produced by the college.
McKenzie-Mohr suggests through the economic self-interest approach that using incentives to promote sustainable behavior is very effective. How can we make recycling economically appealing to students? One idea that I had was to have organizations collect aluminum recycling which will then turn into profit for their group. Volunteers can collect aluminum weekly and bring to CA Recycling in Lynchburg where their recycling can turn into money. There is also an opportunity to turn this into a recycling contest, which would spread sustainable behavior around campus. What other incentives would make recycling appealing to students?
Please comment below with any ideas or suggestions!