However, while Tombes said that forcing people to sort their waste has benefits, it has also confused some dining hall patrons and caused some waste to be placed in the wrong bins.
“If in doubt, throw it out,” Tombes said. “Food is always compostable and most plastics can be recycled. Keep that in mind and throw away anything else.”
The OES said that they have several initiatives underway to increase the number of outdoor recycling containers on campus. However, Tombes also mentioned that the office gets a large amount of complaints directed toward the Styrofoam to-go containers in dining halls. Styrofoam takes a considerable span of time to decompose in landfills, which is the main source of ire.
Tombes says there are two sustainable options that could replace the current Styrofoam containers: compostable containers and reusable containers.
“When you're getting a compostable to-go container, you end up having issues that people will take that container away and there isn't a proper place to get rid of it,” Tombes said. “That's not the best option. We don't want to do something that looks green but isn't really that sustainable.”
The other option is a plastic container which would actually be washed by the dining halls and then reused. This option is favored, with the office working on getting it approved by health inspectors.
The reusable containers would cost $4 to $5 each, but Tombes said this would be a long-term benefit over the current options. While they’re a higher investment, she said, they would see a return on the investment.
“It's a thing that most people see first and complain about first,” Tombes said. “Know that we are working on it; it's been a slow process to get that changed.”
The OES has already seen returns on its investment to compost. In 2011, Tech had a recycling rate of 40.1 percent, with composting accounting for 25 percent of the principal recyclable materials. However, it’s just one of the many ways in which waste has been diverted from a trash mound.
“There are countless examples of where we've been able to put our heads together and find ways of keeping things out of the landfill,” Cochrane said. “And it’s cheaper. Recycling is important.”