James Madison University

Getting Down and Dirty: JMU Students Raise Awareness on the Importance of Recycling

By: Vilina Phan
Posted: November 6, 2012

PHOTO: Georgia Polacek instructs studentClass has concluded and a student walks out and tosses a water bottle into the trash. This simple action leads to an accumulation of recyclables that end up in the trash and eventually the landfill. In 2009, concerned about the lack of awareness, health sciences professor Georgia Polacek established a bi-annual trash sort conducted by her students in Environmental Health (HTH352).

The purpose of this event was to raise awareness and to help students realize how much recyclable refuse gets trashed every day. “The trash sort came about from my frustration with the lack of recycling that I saw in the HHS building,” said Polacek. 

“How much people throw away is disgusting…it’s wasteful,” said junior health sciences student, Leah Ross.

PHOTO: Piles of unsorted trashRoss was one of 19 students who participated in the trash sort this fall. There were a total of 152 bags of trash, accumulated from Rose Library, Carrier Library, and Chesapeake dorm.

The trash sort was set up at the base of the ISAT/CS stairs with a separate table for each building. Three to four students worked at a table with a JMU recycling supervisor, who helped the students determine what could be recycled and what was genuinely trash. Over the years, Polacek and her students have found a few surprises in the trash bags. “There was a prom dress one year, and another time we found a gallon of cooking oil,” said Polacek.

Next to the trash sorting stations was a tall rectangular case, displaying everything that was not recycled that should have been. In the past semester the case filled up in as fast as fifteen minutes.

“[It’s surprising] that even though there are separate recycling bins, it still gets put all together,” said senior health science student, Alexa Johnson.

PHOTO: Trash sort containerPolacek has seen up to 300 bags of trash in previous years. “It usually depends on the type of buildings we sort; academic buildings typically have more trash than dorms, but this is the first time we’ve done libraries so it will be interesting to see the results.”

At the conclusion of the sorting, Polacek found that the trash from the libraries was no worse than the other academic buildings. According to Polacek, the amount of recyclables found in the trash has steadily decreased due to heightened awareness and visibility over the years. 

“I’m encouraged,” said Polacek, “it’s slowly getting better, we have seen a lot of progress…my goal is for us to not have any trash to sort.”

Students are not required to participate in the trash sort, but for those that do volunteer, “it’s a great learning experience, it is something they will definitely remember,” said Polacek.

View more photos from the event

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