When students leave town, others are left with their mess
As students moved out of the residence halls at the end of the school year, the University of Oregon’s Zero Waste program brought together a team of volunteers to ensure that unwanted items wouldn’t end up in the landfill.
In just one week, a team of 36 volunteers contributed 170 hours to the project. Teams collected 370 barrels of recycling — most of which were gathered over three days — which is five times more than what is produced in an average week.
Issues surrounding discarded waste, both on and off-campus, have caused problems in Eugene in recent years. Local housing agencies, such as Von Klein Property Management, have also been working on relieving the amount of waste left behind by exiting students.
Von Klein gives its tenants cleaning and moving instructions before their leases end as well as suggestions for donating food and other unwanted possessions. But these instructions are not always followed, so Von Klein has to hire clean up crews for the interiors and grounds crews to haul away furniture and garbage left outdoors.
Local waste management companies end up disposing some of the move-out mess, but students and property owners are left to deal with trash or recycling that isn’t confined within their waste receptacles.
“According to city regulation, we are required to provide recycling [services],” Royal Refuse General Manager Josh Burnett said. “If recycling is contaminated [by non-recyclable waste], we are allowed to issue a penalty.”
Waste management companies aren’t allowed to revoke recycling services from properties, but property owners do have that authority if tenants are consistently contaminating bins or overusing receptacles, according to Burnett.
“If [recycling receptacles] were taken away, that would be a violation of city code,” Burnett said, “I can see where an owner would make that choice to take it away, [but] we don’t often have to resort to that.”
The chances of trash and recycling services being removed are slim, especially during the busy season of campus move-outs.
“We certainly aren’t removing anything,“ Derek Andrus, head of maintenance for Von Klein said. “We have trash and recycling set up, and it stays there 24/7, 365 days a year.”
While students have options available to them, responsibility often falls to groups such as Zero Waste to make sure that items are deposited in appropriate locations.
“Students get in a rush. They’re in a hurry and often times they don’t do as much sorting as it gets closer to move out day,” Robyn Hathcock, Administrative Services Manager for Zero Waste said. “They throw it all together and drop it.”
Steps are being taken on campus to improve the transitions out of residence halls. With the growing success of clean up projects, student groups may begin to engage with the community at large and encourage better waste management practices by off-campus students whose messes aren’t cleaned up by the UO.
“We are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Hathcock. “We are the last stop in terms of keeping material from ending up in the landfill.”
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