Recycling reservations

By Jonathan Holm

Are the recycling bins on campus superfluous? Over the last several years as a student at UIUC, I have dutifully sorted my garbage into the recycling bins at the Union and in Everitt Lab. However, last night I dropped some paper in a recycling bin in Everitt just as the custodian was making his way to the bin. I was shocked to see the custodian empty all of the recycling bins and the nearby garbage can into the same plastic bag.

I decided to ask the custodian about this seemingly unusual procedure. The man politely informed me that this was standard practice. “It all goes to the same place,” he informed me. Then the custodian described an off-campus facility where apparently all campus garbage that has been mixed is emptied onto conveyor belts and sorted again by hand for recycling.

There were two things about this revelation that bothered me. (1) Why does the University set out recycling bins if the garbage will all be recombined? Isn’t it a waste of labor and state resources to sort garbage that has already been sorted? (2) The custodian informed me that the people who sort the garbage are not typical University employees; according to him, they are contract laborers, make barely above minimum wage, and aren’t represented by any of the unions on campus. Is this fair treatment of the people who do the “dirty work” for us? Shouldn’t these laborers be represented by the same union that bargains for the custodians on campus?

Jonathan Holm

graduate student in Engineering