Almost anywhere, one can find bins with the classic three-arrow triangle marking them for recycling, a practice that has been prevalent in the United States for years. Despite widespread education, however, many still do not understand the importance of recycling. Sustainability Programs Manager Mary Fischer sought to start a discussion around recycling and to raise awareness of composting at Sustainable Brandeis’ “Let’s Talk Trash” event on Jan. 25.

As landfills and incinerators near capacity, Fischer told the audience, it is extremely important to recycle and reduce waste. The problem has become so dire that many states have resorted to exporting their trash. According to Fischer, trash exportation will increase by 50 percent from today’s levels by 2022. 

Recycling an item prevents it from taking up space in landfills and incinerators, ensuring it will be made into something new. Fischer noted, however, that it is better to avoid using these items in the first place, because “recycling never, ever cancels out the environmental impact” caused by producing the objects. Instead, Fischer encouraged people to buy reusable goods, which produce even fewer greenhouse gases than the recycling process. 

While the desire to recycle is important, Fischer stated, many people “wishcycle,” or recycle non-recyclable items because of guilt about throwing them away. If a batch of recycling is contaminated by enough “wishcycling,” the whole batch will become non-recyclable trash.

Fischer turned to discuss recycling and composting at the University. Brandeis diverts 30 percent of its waste from landfills — slightly below the national level of 33 percent, Fischer said. The University also recently began partnering with Black Earth Compost, which takes the University’s food waste to its industrial composting grounds.  

At the University, many offices have their own compost bins, but the only “public” ones, according to Fischer, are in Upper Usdan. Fischer discouraged using those bins, however, as the high likelihood of contamination by “wishcycling” would render the waste non-compostable. Dispelling fears that there is no way to compost at the University, Fischer stated that kitchen staff composts food scraps left on plates in the dining halls. Director of University Services Jeffrey Hershberger added in an email to the Justice that providing compostable items in campus food service locations is “currently under discussion and evaluation.”

As part of an effort to meet “broader University sustainability goals,” Hershberger said in the same email that the University has begun to increase its compost output by switching tableware at catered events from plastic to compostable. In an interview with the Justice, Fischer explained that the switch came after the University’s recycling provider stopped accepting plastic tableware. 

In the email, Hershberger expanded on how compostable tableware is more sustainable than the recyclable version.“If a compostable item is accidentally thrown in the trash, it doesn’t have the same negative impact of accidentally throwing a recyclable item in the wrong receptacle,” Hershberger stated.  

Though switching to compostable tableware  for catered events was easy, it is much harder to do in the student dining locations, Fischer said in the same interview. The University cannot force external companies like Currito and Dunkin’ to use alternative products and has no control over the packaged foods sold at the Hoot Market. 

At the “Let’s Talk Trash” event, Fischer then stepped aside to allow Gretchen Carey of Republic Services, the University’s recycling and trash service, to speak. Carey explained that reusable items are re-used in the “exact same condition” they started in and are not made into anything new, unlike recyclable items. Compostable means that “Mother Nature made it, Mother Nature breaks it down,” she said.

Carey also described Massachusetts’ “Recycle Smart” program. Until August 2018, each municipality in the state “had a different list of what was recyclable,” creating confusion and discouraging residents, Carey said. Then, Massachusetts standardized its recycling and created a recycling guide for people to properly sort their items. 

Carey added that “everything you buy probably could be made out of recycled material,” saying that buying recycled materials encourages businesses to create and sell these commodities.

In a Jan. 25 interview with the Justice, Carey stated that giving “a multitude of reasons why” to recycle will inspire people to examine how recycling could impact their own lives, and thus the planet.

“Let’s Talk Trash” will again take place on Feb. 11 and 14 from noon to 1 p.m. in the Shapiro Campus Center Multi-Purpose Room.