Paul Smith’s College is the only four year college located within the Adirondack Park,
making it unique. It is also very unique in its experiential learning, which attracts a unique type
of student. The students that go to Paul Smith’s usually have a love for the outdoors, and some
amount of consciousness of environmental issues. But at Paul Smith’s, like many others
institutions, there are misconceptions around environmental issues on their campus. This is why
getting the right information out to the campus is so important. A common misconception is that
Paul Smith’s College does not recycle, when in actuality, they do.
The system on the Paul Smith’s College campus is Zero-Sort recycling by Casella. This
means that all the recyclables like paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, and metal cans are put in one
bin, eliminating the separating process. Many students believe that the college does not actually
recycle, because students can see facilities throw the recycling bags away at times. If a bag of
recycling is more than ten percent contaminated, it must be thrown away because the recycling
collector (Casella) will not accept more than that amount of unrecyclable material in the
recycling. To help mitigate this issue, there are now student workers that physically sort through
the recycling on the campus.
The recycling crew initiative began last Spring 2017 with four students who set up the
system that is now in place. Each day, facilities brings all of the recycling to the main recycling
container, and from there the recycling crew sorts through it. Having this physical separation is
important, because it assures that the system is recycling the maximum amount and no recycling
is thrown away if it isn’t contaminated.
The most common issue seen on the Paul Smith’s College campus is that the recycling is
not cleaned out, whether it is a soda or soup can, shampoo or conditioner, or anything else, it
must be washed out and clean. Another issue is when full coffees are thrown into the recycling.
The coffee contaminates everything else within the bag, therefore the bag must be thrown out.
Taking the time to make sure that what is being put in the recycling is actually recyclable is so
important, and something that the campus community struggles with. But do the efforts of
recycling even make a difference?
Recently there has been a lot of chatter around the topic of recycling. According to a New
York Times article “Plastics Pile Up as China refuses to Take the West’s Recycling,” on January
1, 2018 China banned the import of many recyclables from the West. Previously, the United
States had sent recycled plastics and others recyclables over to China to be made into new
products. With this ban in affect, recyclables are piling up. In some cases, people are just burying
their recyclables because there is no place for them. This action is then harmful to the
environment because the chemicals in the plastics can leech into the ground water or the
A study conducted by Harvard School of Public Health showed that participants who
drank water from popular polycarbonate water bottles for a week had a two-thirds increase in
their urine of bisphenol A (BPA). According to this study, exposure to BPA has been linked to
cardiovascular disease in humans. If drinking from plastic water bottles can have this kind of
effect on human’s health, imagine the effect that plastic has on the environment.
One simple solution to this issue, is to stop buying products with a lot of plastic
packaging. I know that this is challenging, some of the cheapest things are packaged with lots
plastic. But doing something as easy as bringing a reusable bag with you shopping, so you don’t
have to use a plastic bag, can really help. Plastic bags are actually not accepted in the recycling
system on campus, but they are a big issue around the world. According to Health Guidance,
there are an estimated 300 million plastic bags that accumulate in the Atlantic Ocean each year.
This has a negative effect on sea life, because they can be mistaken for a meal, and will cut off
the airway of many animals, causing so many needless deaths each year.
So yes, Paul Smith’s College does recycle, and so should you. Getting the right
information out to the campus community is something that is currently holding the college back
from having a really successful recycling program, but you could help. Read the signs above each
bin and make sure what you are recycling is actually recyclable and that it is clean. Doing this
will help not only our environment, but also the student workers that have to sort it each day.