Like tossing waste to the bottom of a garbage can, recycling isn’t at the top of people’s priorities; however, that soon may change at Dixie State University.
DSU and the Southern Utah Recycling Coalition held the America Recycles Day event in conjunction with the national program Friday. With booths, visual aids and other vendors stretched along a portion of the Encampment Mall, the program highlighted recent efforts to make DSU more sustainable.
America Recycles Day participants ranged from Zion National Park representatives to green energy advocates. Kristine Whittaker, Multicultural and Diversity Center co-coordinator, said the strides made are especially impressive considering that she struggled to find who was in charge of recycling measures on campus just three years ago.
Whittaker said she traced the scattered recycling bins in DSU buildings to biology associate professor Donald Warner; he initiated the venture by himself but had become strapped of time and needed help. Trying to find projects for MCDC students, Whittaker approached Warner, holding out a helping hand. What Warner placed in her grasp was much more.
“I was like, ‘You definitely need some help—let us help,’” she said. “And he said, ‘Take it over.’”
Soon, MCDC students spearheaded the recycling efforts, and members like Lucia Hamill, a junior chemistry major from Montevideo, Uruguay, took on projects to bolster sustainability on campus. As chair of the MCDC sustainability committee two years ago, Hamill helped quadruple the recycling program at DSU, and she wrote a successful proposal for grant money from the school.
DSU students’ involvements with conservation measures on campus have provided them with new leadership and career-advancing opportunities.
Rylan Powell, a sophomore biology major from St. George and sustainability committee member, said the skills he’s acquired while volunteering with projects like America Recycles Day will aid him whether he chooses a career in energy fields or not. Powell said a single, small coincidence allowed him to come on board and play a role in recycling efforts.
“I was asking about volunteer hours with someone else, and [Hamill] turned around and said, ‘Hey, I need volunteers,’” he said.
Hamill, looking for help with the expanding program, said the prospects of more assistance from fellow students brought excitement to the process.
“I think I fell out of my chair [out of excitement],” Hamill said.
Hamill’s enthusiasm, along with Powell’s commitment to making some sort of change on campus, helped them team up as they did at America Recycles Day, handing out cotton candy and providing information.
Also, sustainability advocates’ presences on campus led to more advancements.
From experimenting with solar energy to growing food on campus that dorm tenants could eat, DSU library paraprofessional Tracey O’Kelly’s passion comes out when she discusses sustainability. Whittaker said that’s what motivated them to vouch for a sustainability committee at DSU. Now in its first year, the committee, one of few with faculty, staff and students, has explored new initiatives on campus, and numerous members helped prepare for America Recycles Day.
O’Kelly, now chair of the committee, said once DSU students and employees become aware of the potential benefits sustainability measures bring, they could acquire the same passion for recycling she has.
“Even before we had this on campus, I saved the boxes from the library,” she said, showing other recyclables she possesses on the counters of her office. “I took them out to my car and drove them to the recycling center.”
O’Kelly said America Recycles Day emphasized the most important step to introducing recycling: making it as accessible as possible.
At the event, Cindy Benson, a junior integrated studies major from Cedar City and Intergovernmental Internship Cooperative intern, mingled with attendees while discussing future sustainability plans with local experts. She said her internship has allowed her to help promote recycling in southern Utah K-12 schools and that sustainability efforts impact DSU students in more ways than the obvious.
“If you have sustainability on school records, that’s just an extra added bonus because so many businesses are concerned about their waste and saving money,” she said.
From solar panels glistening on top of a trailer near the event’s outskirts to bins clearly marked “Paper” and “Plastic,” O’Kelly said programs like America Recycles Day have started a dialogue about recycling and sustainability. Now, advocates on campus must turn their words into a blueprint, she said.
“I understand this isn’t a passion for everyone, but I would like to eventually make it a passion,” O’Kelly said.