Campus recycling initiative “still limping along”

The program is fighting to survive alongside the global recycling industry.


Sophie Kidd

As of June 2019, the Lexington Public Works Department has stopped accepting all paper recycling. Despite these changes, Washington and Lee University will continue to recycle paper and other scrap materials.

Scott Dameron, the general superintendent of Lexington’s public works department, declined to comment on the changes.

The city’s decision to cease paper recycling is just the latest example of a growing national trend.

When China imposed an import ban on scrap materials such as paper and plastic in 2017, the American recycling industry was faced with a huge obstacle to overcome. A recent article from The Atlantic explains that because the majority of the recycling process had been outsourced to China for the previous two decades, Americans were ill-equipped to handle the situation.

Two years later, the recycling industry continues to struggle. Despite this strain, Washington and Lee’s recycling program remains a part of its sustainability initiative.

Kimberly Hodge, director of sustainability initiatives and education, said even in small communities like Washington and Lee, “recycling programs are still hugely influenced by the global recycling market.”

“We circumvent the local landfill, which means we’re still able to take paper, plastic one and two, aluminum, and metals,” she said.

To do this, Washington and Lee outsources their recycling to the private, Roanoke-based organization Recycling and Disposal Services (RDS). Nevertheless, this avenue does not come without its own problems.

“The place we’ve been taking it in Roanoke has been teetering on the verge of bankruptcy for years, and they keep pulling back,” Hodge said. “It’s just like any other market driven thing. It’s subject to who is buying what and what things are being used for.”

Right now, the future of recycling is unclear, and while, as Hodge said, the school has been able to keep the program “limping along,” she also believes that “the recycling program isn’t going away without a fight.”

For environmentalists like Hodge, the only way recycling will remain a viable method of sustainable action is by making a national adjustment to develop the infrastructure required to process the scraps in America.

So, what’s next for recycling at Washington and Lee?

Hodge is currently organizing a waste minimization task force composed of representatives from the faculty, dining services, facilities and the office of sustainability, who will look at how the school sources and disposes of materials in order to help create more efficient processes.

“We should have recommendations together that we can launch next year,” Hodge said.

Despite problems with recycling, Washington and Lee’s Climate Action Plan has already exceeded expectations. As reported in The Columns, the school is expected to be a carbon-neutral campus by 2050.

In addition to recycling, students can promote sustainability on campus by composting appropriate food and packaging items, volunteering at the school garden and being mindful of excess energy waste.