The Voice: Summer 2003
Senior research project studies recycling on campus
By: Sally Jongsma
Brent Dieleman spent many late evenings in Dordt College dumpsters last semester. Its
not something he does regularly, but Dieleman was gathering information for his directed-research
project. All senior environmental studies majors are required to choose a stewardship issue
and investigate some concrete aspect of it. Dieleman, who is committed to recycling,
decided to see how effective Dordts investment in recycling containers has been. At
the same time, he hoped to raise awareness of recycling options on campus.
I believe as Christians that we need to be stewardly in our use
of the resources weve been given, he says. We dont often enough think
about how finite the many resources we take for granted are, he adds.
Dieleman focused on how much of the corrugated cardboard, number one and two
plastic, clear glass, and aluminumall items collected for recycling by the local sanitation
servicewere actually recycled on campus. He did not look at paper since a
study was done on paper a few years ago.
He distributed a questionnaire asking people across campus to list what they purchased
per week to gain a benchmark figure to compare to what he found
in the dumpsters. Students were helpful in returning the questionnaires; faculty and staff
offices were less so, probably because they dont do as much of the
purchasing themselves, he says. He also contacted vendors of all vending machines on
campus to get figures on the numbers of cans put into the machines.
Dieleman then went through each dumpster every night during one week in September
and one in October to sift through the contents. Donning gloves and some
protective clothing, he examined the dumpster late each evening.
The dumpsters are emptied very early each morning so I figured that if
I went through them late at night Id get a pretty accurate picture,
he says. He pulled out everything that was recyclable, put it in bags,
weighed themand then recycled them, of course.
It took a whole month to get through all the dumpsters and gather
all of the data, Dieleman says.
His results were more encouraging in some areas than others. He concluded that
Dordt College students do a very good job of recycling aluminum cans. Ninety-five
percent of those purchased appeared to be recycled. Cardboard was recycled at a
rate of eighty percent. Recycling rates for plastic and glass, however, fell to
I expected plastic to be higher, but maybe because you have to rinse
it out, people dont take the time to do it, Dieleman says. He
suspects that part of the reason is that students dont always take the
time to figure out what is recyclable and what isnt. Everyone knows aluminum
cans can be recycledplus they carry a deposit. But only some kinds of
plastic can be recycled locally.
Dielemans wrote about his results in a paper that he presented in a
campus forum at the end of the semester. He also sent a copy
to the vice president for business affairs and is considering submitting an article
to the Diamond, the student newspaper.
Because Dieleman believes it is his responsibility to recycle, he tries to purchase
products that can be recycled locally. For example, he tries to avoid buying
brands that package in plastic that doesnt have a number one or two
on the bottom of the container since they cant be recycled locally. He
also tries to buy items in clear glass and avoid products that have
Sometimes that means paying a few cents more.
Financial stewardship is important but so is stewardship of resources, he says. And
if we dont use resources responsibly, prices will go very high later as
the resources become more scarce. If many people followed these guidelines, it could
make a considerable difference in use of resources over time, Dieleman says.
Although financial reasons arent the main reason an institution like Dordt College should
recycle, it does give some incentive. Cutting out what Dieleman estimates to be
about five tons of trash not only means less trash in the landfill
but also the elimination of the $75 fee it costs to dump it
Dieleman says Dordt College does a good job of providing opportunities to recycle
the products that can be recycled locally, but he would like the whole
community to continue to think about how they can do more. He suggests
that a list of recyclable items be fixed to each container in the
apartments and that more recycling dumpsters be added so that it is easier
for students to recycleespecially in the winter. The need for such action will
become more and more evident, he believes, as time goes on and the
worlds resources become more scarce and expensive.