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Students explore recycling for apartments

Students advocate for increased recycling facilities at off-campus apartment complexes. Donated photo Students advocate for increased recycling facilities at off-campus apartment complexes. Donated photo

Environmental science students at Western Carolina University took a look at the logistics of getting off-campus apartment complexes to offer recycling collections as part of a capstone class project. 

“A lot of the students were very surprised that the larger apartment complexes didn’t have recycling,” said junior Virginia Hawkins, of Pinetops. “I knew going into this class that I would assume the larger apartments would have recycling, because they have almost 500 beds. The fact that they don’t is very shocking.”

The 24 students completed the project in partnership with staff from Jackson County, which operates eight staffed centers where residents can drop off recyclables. The students surveyed other students and reached out to property managers to gauge interest in on-site recycling collection at apartment complexes. They also identified potential grants that could pay for recycling bins and organized a trial recycling run at The Maples of Cullowhee that collected 180 pounds of recyclables in a week. 

“None of the apartment complexes are recycling and we’re trying to get at least some of them to,” said senior Thomas Seamon, of Mocksville.

While recycling has long been central to efforts to reduce the environmental impact of waste materials, its effectiveness faces challenges, especially in recent years as multiple countries, including China, stopped importing recyclable waste, forcing some municipalities to put unsellable recyclables in the landfill. 

However, surveys revealed widespread student support for on-site recycling collection. As of now no off-campus complexes offer that service. The students estimate that if even half the off-campus apartments offered recycling collection, they would collect about 95 tons of materials each year. 

Chad Parker, public works director for Jackson County, said he’s not sure what the future holds for recycling collection at the off-campus apartment complexes, but he’s hopeful some of them will start to offer the service for their residents.

 “It was something that needed to be looked into, and that’s what they did,” Parker said of the students and their capstone project. “The group did a great job with the project and we’ve got some good data out of it.”

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