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21st May 2015

Students bin recycling

Jay Fagerberg looks at students’ approach to recycling and why it is rapidly declining

In February, I received an email from my student accommodation informing me that there has been a 33 per cent decline in recycling rates in the University of Manchester’s halls compared to last year. As a result of this, the university is now trying to turn around this negative trend by sending out positive results of what recycling has led to so far. However, this decline in recycling rates is not restricted to halls of residence but has been seen across the whole campus area, and Manchester City Council reports that they have seen a similar decline in Manchester as well.

This is strange seen in the light that recycling is well-established in Manchester in general and, in particular, at campus and in halls. Both the City Council and the university have made large investment in recycling and spent £80000 on recycling bins in halls only. In addition, Waste Prevention and Engagement Assistant Alice Johnson says that it is easier to recycle now than ever before in the halls. She continues to say that there has been no change in the recycling system in terms of physical appearance such as colour, size or numbers of bins this year compared to last year.

However, a possibility could be that the sorting machines are better and more sensitive to contamination now than before. This could lead to that more waste is sent to landfill now that before was going to go to recycle.

“There are definitely more contamination in the bins at uni this year compared to last year. We don’t know why that is, whether it is because the awareness campaigns peaked a few years ago and now you don’t hear much about it. So we wonder if it is because of this it just isn’t in peoples mind anymore and they keep forgetting or if they are not bothered,” she says with a sad laugh. Another idea is that recycling is not a new thing anymore and hence that might lead to a decrease.

Nonetheless, the university’s recycling rates have always risen compared to previous year up until this year (2015), and it is hard to tell why the decrease is seen just this year. Some studies show that with risen knowledge about recycling, increased recycling rates follow. As more contamination is seen in the bins, this strengthens the idea that there is an uncertainty of what and where to recycle, although Alice Johnson says that there is no change regarding recycle information this year.

Other studies show that though students feel that recycling is an important task, the benefit of it is negated if it is just too much practical work to do it. However, this cannot be the reason in this case since nothing has changed in the recycling system this year compared to last year as mentioned before. The only change made regards the halls, where an extra recycling bag has been added to every individual room. This, if anything, will just make it easier for students who can now recycle in their rooms too.

Yet other investigations show that in order to establish recycling behaviours, it must be reinforced on a regular basis. Since this, and positive results might influence students’ recycle motivation further, the university is now trying to boost recycling rates by emailing out positive messages to their residents. Given that this trend is seen across the whole campus, I decided to pay if forward and write this. And hey, you, why are you recycling, or not recycling? Perhaps it is time to reinvestigate your recycling reasons.

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