K-State’s recycling growth sets the bar for other Big 12 schools

Recyclable materials are sorted into different piles at the K-State Recycling Centers on March 10, 2016. (Miranda Snyder | The Collegian)

In 2012, K-State Recycling only processed around 1.3 million pounds of recycling material. Their diversion rate, which represents the amount of waste that is diverted from a landfill for recycling, was only 17 percent of all refuse.

Since then, the center made the push to single source all recycling. Bill Spiegel, Recycling Center facility supervisor, said even though they tried to make recycling easier, the center still faced challenges.

“We separated white paper, magazines, newspaper, aluminum cans, plastic bottle—we separated everything. Even though we separated all those things, we still had roughly 20 percent contamination where people threw other materials and other things into recycling,” Spiegel said.

This led Spiegel to involve himself and the center with the Student Governing Association, Students for Environmental Action, Panhellenic life and the university administration.

“I asked them all, ‘How can I make recycling easier for you? How can it be more convenient?'” Spiegel said.

Based on that feedback, Spiegel and the center turned to a single-stream, or one bin recycling, plan for on campus recycling

“When we made that change, our numbers exploded because it not only made it easier for people on campus to recycle, but it was easier for custodians on campus to empty the recycling bins,” Spiegel said.

This method of recycling was adopted throughout campus, including Housing and Dining Services, Athletics and university administrative operations.

After five years of this system, the K-State Recycling Center increased recycling to over 2 million pounds and increased its diversion rate to nearly 33 percent.

With the increase of recycling at Kansas State in terms of mass, the Recycling Center has seen growth as well. Starting in 2011, when Spiegel began working for K-State Recycling, the center had none of the dumpster-like blue recycling bins that now populate the center.

“We went from none to six, then six to 12, and now we have 20 out here,” Spiegel said. “They’re being filled all the time because we make it convenient for students and faculty to use.”

When Spiegel began, the center didn’t recycle glass either. In 2012, the center recycled 22,000 pounds of glass. By 2017, that number grew to 127,000 pounds of glass annually.

The growth of the Recycling Center in the last several years has garnered national recognition for K-State. In the Recyclemania competition, a voluntary competition between colleges that takes place between February and March, K-State placed 35th in the nation in total recycling and has been the highest ranked university out of all Big 12 universities four out of the last five years.

“Our biggest competition is the University of Texas, which is nearly three times larger than us, but we keep up with them real well,” Spiegel said.

A big part of Recyclemania is the competitive aspect of it, Spiegel said.

“That university about 100 miles to the east of us, they don’t do 2/3 of what we do, and we do it with a lot less. That’s what it’s all about, that’s what makes us K-State,” Spiegel said.

Spiegel said even though he knows he can’t persuade everyone to recycle, his goal is to make recycling as easy as possible for everyone on campus.

“The bins here at the Recycling Center are here and available 24-hours a day,” Spiegel said. “On any given day, it’s like a drive through. People are always coming around to drop off their recyclables in the bins. Once you get the word out and make it easy for people, they don’t mind doing it.”