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Campus News

Warren Wilson College Recycling Crew Fashions Their Own Fabric Bags, Pares Down Plastic

by Karlyn Hunt, staff writer

Photo by Josh Reiss

Photo by Josh Reiss.

Recycling Crew is waging war against a thin, disposable enemy. Plastic trash bags, identified in garbology studies as the leading culprits of Warren Wilson’s waste output, are being thrown away at rates the crew finds alarming.

Recyclables traditionally travel from campus buildings to the recycling center in plastic bags. Every day after recycling is sorted, the trash bags are sent to landfills—where they will never biodegrade. But this wasteful practice does not have to continue.

The crew has generated new strategies to cut its plastic bag consumption by fighting the single-use items with sustainable solutions. Last year they began sewing fabric bags to collect and transport mixed paper. The bags, crafted from materials found in the Free Store, are reused daily in four buildings on campus.

Calculations of how much plastic the project has saved are yet to be determined, but junior Oliver Mednick does not need numbers to measure its success. Mednick sews the bags and finds that being on the crew raises his awareness of the urgency of waste reduction.

“Students who aren’t dealing directly with what happens to plastic bags don’t always think about where they’re going,” says Mednick. “At recycling, we can’t just overlook how much waste we are generating on a daily basis.”

Starting after fall break, the crew took their crusade against plastic waste a step further by instigating a curbside recycling initiative for faculty residential areas on campus. Each house on Daisy Hill Road and College View Drive now has two recycling bins, one for mixed paper and one for containers composed of plastic, glass, aluminum, or steel.

The project intends to make recycling more accessible to residents who may otherwise throw their recyclables into garbage cans or take them to recycling centers in plastic bags.

“It’s kind of a pilot program to see how it goes, and if it goes well we’ll expand it into other residential areas,” says supervisor Jessica Foster.

The crew envisions extending both their fabric bag and recycling bin programs to someday reach across student residential areas, but they apprehend limitations in expansion.

Because the bags are made from Free Store materials, their production relies on the unpredictable availability of sturdy fabric. The bags are also difficult to maintain, says intern Moriah Good. Bags in nonresidential buildings have gotten torn, dirty, and misplaced, and she hypothesizes that students may not care for them properly in dorm common areas.

“It takes a lot of responsibility from the students and the community to make this work,” says Good, who believes that responsible action arises from education.

“I would like to see an awareness of how many plastic bags we use because I don’t think people think about bags as trash. It’s weird to throw our recycling into a piece of trash.”

Crew members believe the community has an obligation not only to participate in recycling programs by recycling plastic grocery bags, which can be converted into artificial lumber, but also to reduce individual plastic bag waste. They advocate bringing your own fabric bags when shopping and not lining personal wastebaskets with plastic bags.

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