Mapping a greener campus, but blue bins still baffle

The University’s Sustainability Office is putting the final touches on a new model meant to streamline sustainability efforts across campus.

By Barbra Kim

The University’s Sustainability Office is putting the final touches on a new model meant to streamline sustainability efforts across campus, but students are still scratching their heads over previous University efforts to make recycling simpler.

The model will show the administration the most cost-effective green initiatives in areas such as cutting greenhouse gas emissions and how food is purchased. It will holistically analyze University sustainability, an unprecedented method of analysis according to Ilsa Flanagan, director of the Office of Sustainability.

“The University of Chicago can model uncommon solutions to problems. This model has never been created at another university,” Flanagan said.

The Sustainability Office will announce the program at the end of June and release its baseline economic model at the end of summer. Specifics, like what the model will look like and what metric the model will use, haven’t been decided yet, as the Office of Sustainability is still in the process of interviewing behavioral economists. “We’re in the process of qualitative interviews to figure out outcomes,” she said.

However, an earlier attempt to streamline sustainability—single-sort recycling—is still a source of confusion for students.

Single-sort recycling, which was introduced in 2008, continues to perplex students who are meant to ignore signs that differentiate plastic bins from glass or paper ones.

Recycling bins still haven’t been switched, making the containers—which label bins as glass, plastic, or paper only—relics of an outdated system that continue to mislead students.

Third-year Jon Chua said he follows the recycling signs in Hutchinson Commons and had no idea the University was a single-sort recycler. Chua said he didn’t believe other students paid attention to the labels, but not because they were single-sorting—instead, they just put trash in the recycling bins. “There are plenty of places to put recycling, but in places like the Reg, I’m not sure how well managed they are. I see people put things in the bins in the A-Level that are not recyclable at all.”

First-year Joyce Du said recycling was low on her list of priorities, single-source or not. “I don’t recycle all the time. Maybe when I’m consciously thinking about it,” she said, adding that knowing about single-source recycling wouldn’t change her approach. “Sorry, environment,” she said.

However, director of the Office of Sustainability Ilsa Flanagan said single-sort recycling has been effective in increasing recycling rates on campus. “The recycling rate will often double or even triple,” She said. “[Students] don’t have to think about recycling. You just throw anything in any of the bins.”

There has been an attempt to mediate the confusion through fliers explaining single-sort recycling in buildings like Swift Hall and Reynolds Club.

But other sustainability programs have been successfully implemented, Flanagan said. The ReCycles Bike Share program began officially this spring after a pilot program in the fall, and it has seen an uptick in users, from 300 in the fall to 600 this quarter, Flanagan said.

Other existing sustainability programs include allocating renewable wind sources for five percent of dormitories’ electrical use and working to garner more Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certifications for University buildings. Searle Laboratory is already certified LEED Silver. The soon-to-be-constructed Early Childhood Center, Logan Arts Center, Eckhart Research Center, and Chicago Theological Seminary are looking for LEED Certification.

Flanagan hopes this model, which fits with the University’s culture of making decisions based on economic and quantitative analyses, will lead to a more sustainable campus.

“If you quantify the benefits and measure the outcome, then you get more credibility as a program,” Flanagan said.