Chemistry 492 class reveals students aren’t recycling properly

Students in Chemistry 492 found that Cal State Fullerton was having issues with recycling properly after auditing the university’s recycling program as part of their class projects.

The data for the students’ findings of the recycling project have not been finalized. The data looks promising but more work would need to be done in order to have a truly efficient recycling system on campus,  said Scott Hewitt, professor of chemistry.

We really weren’t recycling because people are putting their dirty trash into the recyclables, and that makes the recyclables no longer recyclable,” Hewitt said.

At least 500 billion plastic bottles are used each year worldwide, according to Plastic Oceans, a nonprofit organization focused on ending plastic pollution.

“The problem with plastic bottles is that the plastic doesn’t rapidly degrade in the environment so it ends up as little pieces in the ocean,” Hewitt said.

This semester, Hewitt is teaching Chemistry 492, sustainability projects, a class that focuses on sustainability on campus and in the community. The students were divided into three projects, one of which dealt with how efficiently the campus actually recycled.

Manar Totonji, a fourth-year biochemistry major at CSUF who was enrolled in the course, said he sifted through more than 100 bags of waste and has seen issues with recycling over and over again.

“You will be shocked to see what goes into the recycling bin. I’ve seen like fries, I’ve seen like chili cheese fries. It’s really bad. I think a much more important step is to educate people on how and where the proper waste goes,” Totonji said.

As a result, the class focused on possible solutions to help eliminate trash from going into recycling bins, such as putting signs of what needed to be recycled.

This was always thought of as being an ongoing project, not one that was going to end at the end of the semester. I expect next semester, some of the students in my class will be on that same project again and will just take it further,” Hewitt said.

In order for the campus to recycle effectively, Hewitt said people have to make sure they check the recycling symbol and number at the side of a plastic container or bottle.

“Any kind of plastic that’s (the number) three or higher, goes in the trash. The only thing that we want in the recycling bins are glass, cans and bottles that are two or lower (and) plastic that’s two or lower,” Totonji said.

Students in Hewitt’s class who were a part of the recycling team also had to develop the initial steps to create a student-led recycling program.  

“First thing would be to figure how it’s going to be funded. You could start it as volunteers but without a source of funding, pretty soon, people aren’t going to keep on doing it,” Hewitt said.

Hewitt also suggested seeking external funding and mentioned that if the program was under Associated Students, they could partially fund the recycling program.

People outside the university who collect recyclables are also an issue when it comes to acquiring potential funding once the student-led recycling program comes to fruition, Hewitt said.

Scot Willey, captain of the CSUF University Police, said when people throw trash in the garbage or recycling it is open to the public to take. The department has worked with the sustainability programs on campus in the past to find ways to minimize people’s ability to take recyclables, such as putting locks on bins.

However, Willey said it’s not the department’s first priority to take care of these types of recyclers.

Still, Totonji said there needs to be a full-level audit in the school’s recycling because it will affect the campus in years to come.

“Climate change is not politics, and this is what people need to understand,” Totonji said. “This is going to be the biggest human challenge of the 21st and 22nd century.”

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