It’s been six years since Columbus started offering free curb-side recycling. The program proved popular, but it’s only available to people who live in buildings with four or fewer units. That’s a big problem for student housing near The Ohio State University, a school that prides itself on zero waste.
Ohio State goes to great lengths to encourage recycling on campus, and in YouTube videos officials highlight their zero-waste efforts at Ohio Stadium. Last year at Ohio State football games, the university diverted almost 90 percent of waste to compost or recycling.
But those options largely dry up once you leave campus, and many students living in apartments nearby don’t even have recycling at their homes. Columbus Division of Refuse administrator Tim Swauger explains that’s because multi-family units with dumpster service don’t get curbside recycling.
“That’s based on the city code, 5 or more units [is] multifamily,” Swauger says, “So that was the break-off, and mainly when you get into the complexes, if you have 200 units in a complex, there’s not room for 200 64-gallon containers, and it’s a logistics issue for both us and them.”
Officials with Ohio State turned down interview requests for this story, but according to Swauger, they’re in talks for a future initiative aimed at diverting food waste.
Meanwhile, students like Hailey Hayes, president of Students for Recycling, are working on projects of their own.
Last week, she and a handful of members hosted their annual Dump and Run, where they resell what students left behind during last year’s move-out.
“Yeah, so we have a couple futons that are still available,” she says, looking around the noticeably-picked over offerings. “We also have a whole bunch of shoes, hair dryers, lamps, tupperware.”
Hayes explains the last sale sold about four tons worth of furniture and other items, while diverting a total of about seven tons from the landfill. She’s proud of the work she and the university are doing to encourage sustainability at school, but she admits some concern about students’ lack of access to recycling at home.
“It’s like pushed more on campus, but then as soon as you go off campus, it’s like you can’t even recycle, so you’re like, 'Why even bother if I don’t even have the ability to?'” she says. “And then I feel like that gets in people’s minds, and they come back to campus and they’re just used to throwing things away.”
Hayes is living off-campus for the first time this year—splitting a house north of the university with four of her friends. It’s a single-family home so they’ll have curbside recycling; she and her roommates already requested a bin from the city.
But Ohio State senior Ellie Seifferth doesn’t have that option, and she says it’s frustrating. She lives just east of campus, in a small complex with about a half-dozen apartments.
“I mean, especially during move-in week, you can see back by the dumpster there’s all sorts of boxes, cardboard boxes, because everyone is unpacking, everyone’s buying new appliances and things, and it’s all just sitting out there,” Seifferth says. “We’ve talked about a few times actually, more than a few times, that we wish we had recycling.”
For Seifferth and others who don’t have home pickup, the only readily available recycling options are public drop-off sites maintained by the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio, or SWACO.
Kyle O’Keefe, SWACO director of innovation and programs, says the organization currently has about 60 drop-off locations throughout Franklin County. He says they take into account factors like population density and existing services.
“But then we have to go into a deeper level of analysis to actually find property owners that will let us put our boxes on their property,” he says.
Last year, SWACO re-evaluated and decided to expand the program. O’Keefe says they’ve already added four new drop-off locations, with plans to place another six. And he explains there are some existing options near the university.
“We actually have some locations to the north and the south of campus, still student populations living around there, but we are looking to locate an additional site somewhere more central around the off-campus area,” O’Keefe says. “That has been a little bit of a challenge for us.”
But O’Keefe says that, with parking at a premium, many property owners are loath to give up space for recycling. He says they’ve also encountered issues with illegal dumping at some sites, but they’re working on education campaigns and other steps to avoid that moving forward.