Not surprisingly there are a wide variety of waste reduction efforts that have been put into place throughout campus life. One of these efforts is driven currently by the Composting Initiative student group. Composting has been a topic of conversation for a few years now, but in the last five years the program has not been able to transform the idea into something systematic.
Composting at Oberlin is different from what we do here at Puget Sound in that Oberlin owns a farm where some of their pre-consumer food scraps get sent to be composted. They are currently able to compost approximately 40 tons each year, but produce four times that amount. The food that gets sent to the farm to be composted is all of the pre-consumer waste from the co-op dinning halls and then additionally whatever else from the main dining halls they have room for.
As mentioned before, there have been multiple efforts over the last five years to expand this program and give it a more systematic application, but these efforts have yet to come to fruition. A few years ago there was a student proposal for an in vessel system. Unfortunately the project did not make “political sense” and so was not approved and the efforts surrounding it died down for awhile. Recently there has been a renewed surge of enthusiasm and the formation of a new student group that is focused on bringing a campus wide composting program to life, and though they have yet to come up with a system, they are still working on the problem.
Another big source of waste on college campuses is the paper waste generated from paper towel use. There is a pilot program taking place in some of the residence halls at the moment to try and reduce that paper waste. I got the impression that there were always new ideas for how to reduce waste and many of these ideas get tested via pilot projects in the different residential buildings.
Recycling efforts in Ohio, as with any state, are different from those here in Washington. When the efforts started at Oberlin they were working with a single stream separated system, meaning that everything had to be separated into their respective groups (plastic, paper, aluminum, glass etc.). The school was responsible for making sure that everything got separated and then they had a contract with the city to pick it up and transfer it to the landfill to be processed.
The system then transitioned to a co-mingled program, much like the one that we use here at Puget Sound, where all recyclables get combined into one container. The decision was made to keep paper separate because they were able to sell it back. This system has been maintained for the past three years and in that time has been pretty exclusively run by students. Of course they are always trying to better their system, and are currently trying to transfer most of these responsibilities over to the sustainability coordinator and facilities and in doing so might make some changes. Currently they are only paying to recycle the campus waste, except for the paper which brings in a whopping $5 per month. What they are now thinking is that they will go back to more of a separated system so that they are collecting paper, cardboard and aluminum separately while all other recyclables are still combined.
A program that Oberlin students started that goes along with recycling is a permanent “Free Store” which consists of a permanent drop off/pick up location where students can bring any of their unwanted items to donate them. The program started as an end of semester campus wide “stuff swap” which is still in existence, but now the stuff can be swapped all year round. The pick-up/drop-off location is currently located in one of the residence halls, and The sustainability coordinator was not sure which one. Because it is located in a residence hall the access to the store is limited to the students with access to that building. Eventually they hope to expand the program and to maybe even move it to a downtown space so that it can be open to the whole community.
Additionally there is an online classified system that students can use to trade/sell items that are no longer of use to them, however, it is mostly used for textbooks and for ride sharing than for other items.