The untold truth of recycling
Updated: Dec 8, 2022
by Abigail Lia
Walking along the College of Charleston campus, it’s easy to choose to recycle.
There are recycling bins next to or near every trash can. In some buildings, there are even bins with specific labels for what trash goes where - landfill, paper, compost.
Even with this, some people still find it difficult to make recycling a habit.
In a recent international marketing course at CofC, students were asked to show a hand if they recycle. Only three students of 28 raised their hands.
Lyndsey Amodio, a senior at The College, was one of the 25 students who did not.
“I sometimes do when I think about it, but I can’t say I do on a regular basis,” said Amodio. "We learned to reduce, reuse and recycle, but I never really thought about the impacts it has on the world.”
The most common reason why people do not care as deeply about recycling is often because there is a lack of awareness.
“It is not necessarily that people do not care about the environment but it's more so no one has fully grasped how bad it is,” says Jen Jones, College of Charleston’s new Director of Sustainability.
While some people don't recycle because they are generally unaware, others don’t because they just don’t want to really make a change in their behavior/habits.
Nicole Killen, a graduate student at CofC, has studied this phenomenon known as "attitude behavior gap," which refers to people who know they should do something about a problem, and so they show concern about it, but they aren't willing to change their lifestyle to adopt a desired behavior.
Killen has seen this gap present on campus.
Students will recycle on campus where they feel the pressure of an audience and know recycling is the right thing to do but then they do not follow through at home where it matters most.
One of the reasons for this gap can be attributed to the fact that South Carolina does not mandate that occupants of the state recycle.
“Part of the reason they do this is because they enjoy the kind of lifestyle of ‘it's your life do as you wish,’ but honestly you know the problem with that is we are all a part of the same ecosystem,” says Jones.
Jones said a lack of recycling could have negative effects on both the environment and landfill overflows.
In states such as Virginia where Killen grew up, there were laws making recycling mandatory.
Virginia laws require that residents recycle, if they fail to do so local officials will deliver a notice of violation. After the third violation, criminal or civil penalties will be authorized which can include fines.
States that do not regulate recycling are at greater risk for landfills to overflow and when a landfill overflows a new one must open and disturb another neighborhood.
Living near a landfill has effects on both the surrounding environment and residents.
The effects on the environment could be detrimental, says Killen. She is concerned about the impacts of lack of recycling and sustainability are already having across the globe.
Research shows a correlation between living near a landfill and greater health risks from the pollution in the area.
This pollution can cause diseases such as cancer, or chronic respiratory illnesses, pose health threats such as asthma and birth defects.
The toxicity of the waste in landfills does not only pollute the air but it also pollutes the soil and water in the areas; the water that we swim in and drink, posing health threats to those in the surrounding areas.
Jones pointed out that this kind of health concern generally only affects people in lower income neighborhoods where residents are not as likely or don’t have as many necessary resources to fight having a landfill near their homes.
“They put landfills in the neighborhoods where people don't have enough of a say to keep a landfill out,” said Jones.
The reason Jone points this out is because it contributes to a lack of awareness among wealthier communities that do not suffer the direct effects that landfills have on quality of life.
Along with pollution and overflowing landfills people also have to realize the importance of reusing recyclables past their intended use.
Earth's natural materials are finite and if people continue to extract them, the country could run out.
It will reduce the amount of human processes that destroy the environment. Humans have now done more damage to the environment than it can handle, and we are seeing the negative effects it is having.
For example, increased pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have caused global warming and led to greater natural disasters with even more devastating impacts.
Jones and Killen have both studied these long term effects on the environment and intend to ensure that the College of Charleston is not contributing to this harm.
They do this with daily recycling procedures around campus.
Everywhere you go on campus there are three bins: waste, paper and plastic. The paper and plastic are picked up by the recycling team where they distribute the paper and plastic into sorted bins and the waste is collected by our janitorial staff.
The idea is to encourage students not just to recycle but to help the process by sorting various types of recyclable material - plastic, glass, compost, landfill.
With the three options for waste, students can easily learn what gets recycled and where it goes, preventing them from just choosing to throw something away in the landfill trash cans because they aren’t confident in what to recycle.
Jones acts behind the scenes ensuring that the recycling procedures on campus are carried out properly.
On the other end of operations is Jerome Smalls, College of Charleston’s head of recycling, who is passionate about the practice.
“I never really cared much to recycle, then I saw these videos and man they really got to my heart - animals suffering, marine animals suffocating on the plastic people left behind. That’s when I decided I would do something about it and I've been working in recycling for 23 years now,” Smalls said.
Becoming educated on the harmful effects not recycling can have on the environment can lead individuals to having the realization that Smalls did and changing their habits and lifestyles.
“If people knew, they would care,” says Smalls.