Reduce, reuse, recycle isn’t a waste at CSU


Collegian | Sophia Sirokman

Ivy Secrest, Life and Culture Director

Whether it’s due to trendiness or personal morals, sustainability and how we reduce our carbon footprint have become a major focus, especially at Colorado State University over the past decade.

Solar panel implementation, composting programs and student initiatives have led to CSU being in the top 5-10% of campuses in the Campus Race to Zero Waste since 2005 and ranked as the fifth-greenest college in the nation by The Princeton Review this year.


Though CSU is highly ranked, strides toward improvement are still being made, meaning the movement for sustainability isn’t as widespread as many environmentalists would hope.

“I see where we can make those strides, and we’re one of the top universities,” said Jennifer Williams, integrated solid waste program manager for Facilities Management at CSU. “If that’s the case, how bad are other universities across the country doing?”

Facilities Management works to educate students. They collaborate with the Zero Waste Team to teach students about sustainable waste management and how to participate in a productive way without contaminating the waste.

“We call it wish-cycling, where somebody has a piece of trash in their hand, and they assume or they want to believe that it’s recyclable,” Williams said. “They put in their recycling, wishing that it was (recyclable) when it’s actually not.”

Even with all of the efforts of the university, there are limits to what the campus can accomplish as well as limits to current systems. Consider the extensive composting program on campus yet the lack of compost bins in dorms. While perhaps encouraging composting in individual dorm rooms seems sustainable, it’s not achievable without cost.

The bins required are expensive, and the smell of that many compost bins would decrease the quality of living spaces for first-year students, Williams said.

Compost bins in the dorms also encourage pests and have a high likelihood of compost molding before it reaches the facility. The university instead works on slow-rollout programs in which they can adjust as problems arise.

“We are still working through our pilot program of doing the break rooms,” Williams said. “(For) a lot of the break rooms on campus, if there’s a sponsor, (it) will have a compost bin.”

Kenneth Kinneer, director of environmental affairs in the Associated Students of CSU, is currently working to implement an in-house, student-staffed compost program at the Lory Student Center food court.


“What we would look for is basically to hire (student) staffers for a fair wage to run the program,” Kinneer said. “That means bringing in the compost bins, sitting at a table right next to them, having those engagements (and) educating students about what is (and) what isn’t compostable also, what is (and) what isn’t recyclable.”

While the goal is to implement education for both composting and recycling, the focus will be on composting because composting bins aren’t readily available in the LSC, and the university has its own composting facility from which soil is used in multiple ways on campus.

“It’s beneficial for not only reducing waste that ends up in landfills but also (providing) nutrients for crops and gardens,” Kinneer said.

Some of the focus on compost, as opposed to recycling, comes from the fact that, according to a report from Greenpeace on the state of plastic recycling in the U.S., less than 5% of recycling is actually repurposed.

“The problem oftentimes with recycling is that the recycling process is very inefficient,” Kinneer said. “Oftentimes it’s that way because it’s part of a for-profit recycling program.”

This doesn’t mean materials aren’t recyclable; it just means they aren’t in demand.

“A lot of the places that have the ability to do it just won’t do it,” Williams said. “There’s no money in it. … That’s how a lot of places fund their recycling process is by being able to sell what they sorted to recyclers.”

Though recycling isn’t as efficient as composting, that doesn’t mean the impact isn’t still positive. If plastics are tossed, they’ll likely never decompose, so abandoning recycling isn’t the answer, Williams said.

Reaching as many members of the CSU community is essential when educating about something as complex as recycling and composting.

“The LSC’s unit I think it’s one of the best places to do the education,” Williams said. “Because most students end up in the LSC at some point, most students will eat a meal at the LSC.”

To continue to be a leader in sustainability, CSU has to educate each new group of students and faculty. Programs like the one Kinneer is trying to get funded and existing programs like Earth Month celebrations contribute to that.

“(CSU will) create that change if there are people individual people pushing for the change,” Williams said.

Reach Ivy Secrest at or on Twitter @IvySecrest.