Seventy percent of all waste on the Southern Oregon University campus is recyclable, and thanks to the efforts of one SOU student, it won’t be going to waste for much longer.
Misty Munoz, an SOU alumnus, raised $58,000 to overhaul SOU’s recycling program during the summer as part of her capstone project. According to Munoz, 70 percent of all recyclable waste is generated by student housing.
“Waste disposal costs are high,” she said. “And using commingled and glass recycling, we could reduce these costs by $49,000 per year.”
The Associated Students of Southern Oregon University Senate donated $25,544 to the program at its outset, and are expecting to see a good return on their investment once the new recycling center, a key aspect of Munoz’s program, begins running regularly. Currently it operates on a strictly volunteer basis without the guidance of a coordinator, though there are plans underway to add paid student positions for sorters at the center in a few weeks as well as a Sustainability Coordinator later on this winter.
While the center is still getting up to speed, other changes can already be felt around campus. The dorms have new glass and commingled recycling bins, and what was once simply designated as “the trash” now sports a “landfill” label to remind students where their garbage is going. All of this has helped SOU make remarkable strides among sustainable universities nationwide.
The Sierra Club annually produces their list of “Cool Schools,” which rates schools based on their level of sustainability and environmental consciousness in several areas. In 2009, SOU was ranked 99th on their list but leapt to 38th in 2010, far ahead of the University of Oregon and other Oregon campuses, a 61-point jump that Misty, and others involved with the project, attribute in part to their recycling program.
“The program couldn’t have taken off the way that it did if there hadn’t been a guide to follow,” said Munoz, referring to the work of Karyn Kaplan, the University Environmental Resource and Recycling Manager at the University of Oregon.
Kaplan created a comprehensive recycling program which she claimed could save the university $20,000 per year in office costs alone. Her program proved so successful that it earned her the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2005 College/University Partner of the Year Award, according to the Oregon Daily Emerald.
Acting as project manager putting in 50 to 60 hours per week, Munoz and her team of volunteers spent two months this summer renovating a building that facility management had been using for storage in order to create a space where waste could be sorted for recycling. A dedicated core of like-minded students from a variety of backgrounds soon rallied to help Munoz in her endeavor. SOU sophomore Larry McCain’s extensive experience in sustainable carpentry proved useful during the renovations.
“We built a deck on the side of it, added insulation, sheet rock, sinks, and a bathtub to deal with liquid waste,” he said. “This is one thing that has me really excited about this school. Already we’re at number 38 and we’d like to make it to number five in the next few years.”
Although their rise has been fast, the path ahead isn’t necessarily easy.
“We can’t compost yet,” said McCain. “There are still some hoops to jump through, like large-scale compost has some restrictions on using post-consumer waste, but we hope to be able to soon.”
Despite a lifelong commitment to environmental causes, Munoz admitted that she hopes her project will save more than just money.
“It’s all because of my 4-year-old daughter,” she said. “She’s the reason I do what I do. We have to think about the next generation.”
Everyone is encouraged to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new recycling center Friday, Oct. 21 at 4 p.m. at 382 Wightman Street behind the SOU Security Building.