CG Column: Easy alternatives exist to help reuse and recycle move-out waste
By CG Commentary Editor Lane Robbins and CG Editor-in-Chief Erich Hiner
Moving out for the summer? Don’t throw that away – it’s probably reusable or recyclable!
According to Ohio University Recycling and Refuse, 80 percent of what students dispose of as trash can be reused or recycled.
Perhaps that sounds too good to be true, but that figure might actually be an understatement, said Ed Newman, manager of OU Recycling and Refuse.
When student dorms and apartments empty, the streets fill up with unwanted food, furniture, appliances and more. Some of it is picked up by thrifty scavengers, but much of it finds its way to the Athens-Hocking Landfill, located near Nelsonville.
But why do students throw so much away? Most people do not want to take all their stuff on a European vacation or to an internship on the West Coast. Students and new graduates also may not want to pay for a moving truck or storage space.
“Our society is based on consumption,” Newman said. “Ethically it just doesn’t make sense to waste.”
Reusing old furniture and appliances reduces demand for new items. That means fewer raw materials are used for manufacturing. But much of Athens’ move-out waste gets thrown out nonetheless.
Landfills have limited space and it costs a lot of money to open and maintain a new one. OU environmental health professor Helmut Paschold said that throwing out reusable furniture takes up valuable landfill space. Less available space means the need to create more landfills.
The trouble doesn’t stop there. Household cleaners and other hazardous chemicals can build up in fabrics and upholstery. Hazardous chemicals can be found in discarded refrigerators, computer monitors and electronic devices. When those items are thrown out, the chemicals in them leach into the landfill when it rains.
“I like to describe it as ‘garbage juice,’” Paschold said.
Although modern landfills have a system for collecting the liquid (which is called leachate), it is considered hazardous waste and must be treated. That takes energy, and workers can be accidentally exposed to it in the process. There’s also the chance for accidents.
The bottom line? Throwing out furniture and large items just isn’t environmentally friendly. Fortunately, there are simple alternatives.
OU Recycling and Refuse is hosting its annual “Move-Out Services” from May 23 to June 12 and encourages students both on and off-campus to recycle their move-out materials. The department will donate collected items for people in need, and Appalachia has plenty of people in need.
Recyclables include paper, bed frames and shelving, books and magazines, CDs, mattresses, bed sheets, computer disks, binders, dishes and silverware, curtains – the list goes on. More information is available at the OU Recycling and Refuse website.
The biggest source of move-out waste? Food! If students still have money on their Bobcat cards, they also might consider the purchase of food for donation.
“We’re trying to fill-up at least one semi [truck] with food,” Newman said.
On-campus food donations can be collected inside residence halls. Reusables, including carpet and furniture, can be placed next to trash bins and recycling areas near special signs. OU Recycling and Refuse emphasizes the word “next.” Diving inside a trash bin can be fun, but most people prefer not to.
Beginning at 10 a.m. every day during finals week, off-campus food donations and other reusable items can be brought to these drop-off sites around town: Athens Middle School; the uptown Domino’s Pizza; North Court and State Streets next to the main trash bins; and many more. Check the Move-Out recycling site for more information.
OU has been encouraging move-out donations and recycling on campus since the early 1990s and off campus for the past four years. Most students live off campus, and Move-Out Services is also available to the larger community of Athens residents.
“I’m hoping it goes to zero waste,” Newman said of student move-out.
Hopefully that will one day be a reality. In the mean time, let’s keep recycling whatever we can.