“You see the same stuff every time,” said Azul Dahlstrom-Eckman of the recycling and compost bins on the University’s campus. “There’s trash in there; it’s not sorted right … and I felt we could do more.”
Dahlstrom-Eckman has worked for Campus Recycling for the past three years, and the experience has recently inspired him to create the Resident Hall Recycling and Composting Education program. RHRCE is meant to instruct students and answer their questions of how to recycle and compost properly on campus.
“The University is the easiest place you’ll ever recycle at,” he said. “The majority of trash is something that can be recyclable.”
RHRCE consists of Dahlstrom-Eckman visiting different residence halls on campus and engaging and educating students in 30-minute time slots. He gives a 15-minute presentation on why recycling and composting is important and how to do it on campus. Then attendees play a recycling/sorting game — the heart of the program — where students interact and test their knowledge. The winner receives a prize, and everyone enjoys free pizza.
So far, he has presented his education program at four different residence halls: Hamilton, Walton, Riley and Earl.
“It’s a really valuable tool for outreaching to residents,” said recycling coordinator Robyn Hathcock, one of Dahlstrom-Eckman’s supervisors at Campus Recycling. “It can be easy to gloss over things. If you know the why and the how, then you have the package of knowledge to make good decisions.”
Campus Recycling employee and University senior Rebecca Ley acts as Dahlstrom-Eckman’s assistant for the presentations. She said Campus Recycling is often a behind-the-scenes job and that she liked the hands-on aspect of RHRCE.
“You see immediate results with the sorting competition right there,” Ley said. “It’s good to see them have fun with it because they don’t realize they’re learning, but they are.”
Dahlstrom-Eckman got the idea for RHRCE after a grueling day working for Campus Recycling last year during move out, when freshmen leave the dorms at the end of the year. He said Campus Recycling regularly finds tons of reusable and recyclable items in the trash, including cell phones, TVs, mini-fridges, clothes and canned food.
“We all were thinking, ‘Gosh, wouldn’t it be better if we had a way to tell the residents how to recycle better?’” he said. “It just sort of sat there, floated there in the air. And I was just like, ‘OK, I’m going to do it.’”
He started planning the program during the summer and got permission to start putting it into practice during fall term.
“I happened to be around when he was planning it, and I jumped on it,” Ley said. “I just thought it was a good way to get more people involved on campus. There’s a lot of freshmen who come here who might not know about recycling.”
Raised in an environmentally conscious home in San Francisco, Dahlstrom-Eckman said he has always felt that recycling is an important responsibility. But he doesn’t blame University students for not knowing recycling rules.
“It’s not their fault because people aren’t all from communities where it was valued,” he said. “What I really like about the program is it allows them to ask us questions.
“I want to put a face on recycling. There’s a really big disconnect in our society. You buy a product, and as soon as you’re done with it, you just put it in a bin. You don’t understand that people sort it, go through every bit of it. And hey, we’re students, too.”
In the long run, Dahlstrom-Eckman wants to try to institutionalize RHRCE. He hopes to seek University Housing’s endorsement and create a more regular routine for the education program’s presentations.
The biggest challenge has been getting the word out to residence halls and residence assistants that the program exists. But with the help of Ley, Hathcock and others from Campus Recycling, the future looks bright.
Dahlstrom-Eckman said he means for RHRCE to continue without him once he graduates in the spring, and his ultimate goal is to reach as many students as possible.
“Hopefully, they leave with the feeling that recycling is worth their time, and they can do it correctly,” he said. “If you’ve changed one person’s actions, then you’ve had a positive effect on the world, and that’s all I can hope for.”