WMU brings out new bins

Robert Youngs

They're less than four feet tall. They don't command much attention, but they help you help the Earth.

Brand new recycling bins appeared in WMU residence halls this year as a result of an initiative by Western Michigan University’s Residence Life.

Students now have an indoor option to the recycling containers placed outdoors throughout campus.

Doug Carney, manager of facilities and contract administrator for Residence Life, said he already had the idea in place. He was in Las Vegas of all places, three time zones and over 1,600 miles away from Kalamazoo, when he stumbled upon the bins at a trade show.

“The University had kicked off a new sustainability initiative and we'd already started new programs in the residence halls,” said Carney. “We looked for something to enhance the program.”

“We already had dumpsters outside the residence halls,” added Carney. “People weren't separating product for the outside bins.”

Carney explained that Residence Life discussed that the University wanted to be more sustainable and that the student body wants to be more responsible. He said that he and Laura Darrah, assistant director of Residence Life who oversees Living/Learning Environments, Programming and Marketing at WMU, have always bounced ideas like this back and forth.

Implementing the bins, which have their own custom dollies to roll them in and out of the halls, has been a breeze for Residence Life.

Two hall directors are especially excited about the bins.

“I thought it was a great idea,” said Megan Cahill, hall director for the Little Three complex, which contains Davis, French, and Zimmerman Halls. “Anything to make recycling easier for the residents makes it more convenient,” she added.

Cahill's counterpart at the Burnhams, Kara Kurczeski, was just as pleased.

“I was excited that our department was taking an active role in the sustainability initiatives on campus,” Kurczeski said.

Cahill and Kurczeski both said that specific reactions from residents is something that they haven't received yet, but that it's not hard to tell what's happening.

“We seem to be taking it [the bins] out every day,” said Cahill.

“I haven't gotten any specific feedback yet, however the bins are constantly full. I think that speaks for itself,” Kurczeski said.

Carolyn Noack, manager of recycling and waste reduction at Facilities Management (formerly Physical Plant) at WMU, is glad that students in residence halls can help reduce WMU's carbon footprint, especially when Styrofoam is concerned.

“We've been trying to do Styrofoam recycling for a number of years,” Noack said. “We've been very good at capturing material from packaging, but a little less so from food grade [containers],” she added.

“Styrofoam wasn't on our original list,” said Carney. “It's something we've wanted to capture.”

The bins also are turning out to be cost-effective.

Carney said the new bins and dollies cost in the neighborhood of $6,000. Their cost-effectiveness has shown up in the difference of trash removal costs during move-in this year and last year.


Last year, Residence Life spent $7,880.40 to move trash out of the residence hall dumpsters. This year only $5,086.34 was spent to move away trash.

The savings allows Residence Life a three-year payoff plan for the bins. No additional costs were passed along to students living in residence halls this year.

In their most simplistic form, the bins give students an easy option without having to trudge through the rain, cold weather, or worse yet, snow. The bins may also help change attitudes about recycling and being environmentally friendly on campus.

“It's part of their daily routines now,” Cahill said. “Kids drop off their breakfast containers or Den Pops and are on their way,” she added.

Making life easier is one thing. The bins are also helping get the word out about Residence Life’s commitment to sustainable living.

“The bins are a great way to not only advertise Residence Life's support of sustainable initiatives on campus, but that we're going the extra mile to make it easier for them to recycle or get involved,” Kurczeski said. “I think the bins may spark some new ideas on how we can better serve our students and our earth and make it more convenient and accessible to recycle.”

“Some of the hall councils have started naming Eco Reps that can develop green initiatives,” Cahill said. “We've started doing paperless agendas for the Little Three council meetings,” she added.

Even the Residence Hall Association is on board.

Richard Schaaf, president of the Residence Hall Association, said that the bins are a positive improvement.

“They encourage students to take an active role in improving the environment, without demanding sacrifices on the part of the students,” he said.

Carney said that the bins are now a permanent addition to WMU’s residence halls. He also said that WMU is one of the first institutions to implement such a system.

“We're pretty much where we want to be,” Carney said. “We used to have a large bin for paper in the lobbies, and we eventually got to having paper bins in every room, which was a significant investment,” he added.

“Everyone's happy when we add more bins,” Noack said.

Carney said he faced no obstacles and the idea was received with open arms. “We're executing very well,” he said.

Kurczeski said she believes the bins are a great help to Residence Life.

“I think that students who recognize our efforts will want to get more involved either with our office, or with other departments on campus that are embracing 'green initiatives,'” she said.

Cahill agreed. “It's a focus of our department and we're looking forward.”

“It's been an overwhelming success so far,” Carney said. “Some halls have had the staff empty the bins two times a day. I was at Eicher/LeFevre and the bins were overflowing. We've made it a programming thing for the halls and the staff.”

For more information on WMU's sustainability initiatives, visit www.wmich.edu/sustainability.