NAU revamps recycling and landfill bin system: recycle right, reap rewards 

Looking down with grass as the background the green recycilng sign with three curving arrows following each other in a triangle shape is imposed in the middle of the image. Pieces of recyclable materials like water bottles and paper lay around the sign

Recycling is one the top actions society can take to simultaneously improve the environment, the economy, sustainable manufacturing and prevent waste from going into oceans. 

That is why NAU is launching an ambitious new recycling program to make the university more sustainable, in keeping with the goal to be more sustainable by President Luis Cruz Rivera—he committed us to something.  

recycling at nau written at the top. Recycle sign in the top left corner. A recycle and landfill bin next to each other. Blue background.With a goal of streamlining the recycling process which will include upgrading the recycling and landfill bin system, the project is a collaboration between the NAU Green Fund and the NAU administration. Chief Sustainability Officer Erik Nielsen and sustainability manager Avi Henn, along with the Office of Sustainability, are leading the charge. Sophia Swainson, a journalism major with double minors in communication studies and environmental communication, was essential to the project’s development, noted Henn. The Green Fund also played a crucial role, voting to fund the ambitious project, allocating up to $175,000.  

“We would like to increase recycling rates on campus and reduce our solid waste generation. A consistent bin system will aid in encouraging everyone to recycle and recycle correctly,” Henn said. “These initiatives are important because they help reduce NAU’s environmental footprint.”

small classroom sized blue bin with white recycling signThe first round of bins is being rolled out now, during the first week of Earth Month. The new system will feature blue recycling bins with a white recycling symbol and brown bins with a landfill symbol. The first wave of bins in places are already set up in the du Bois Center and other buildings with high traffic will see them soon. There will be additional capacity for recycling and landfill bins in common areas, and deskside bins will only be for recycling; landfill materials can be disposed of in common hallway bins. This strategy will allow more effective use of scarce custodial time and improve recycling rates while decreasing recyclable contamination. Large lobby unit bins with recycling and landfill bins will be placed outside classrooms in most cases instead of small bins inside the classroom. The Flagstaff recycling guide outlines what should go into a recycling bin. 

While the team is excited to move forward with this streamlining project and reduce waste on campus, they understand change takes time and are focused on coordination and logistics to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible.  

“We are pulling out waste bins from offices and only providing recycling in offices, so people will need to walk to a nearby trash bin to dispose of landfill materials. Some may find this to be an annoyance, but it is necessary considering the workload on our custodial staff,” Henn said. “The office usually produces more recycling than landfill materials and we would like to capture these materials better. Just like with any change, we know that change requires time and adjustment.” 

Henn discussed studies that have shown that increasing the ease of recycling not only improves recycling rates, conversely, inconvenience and the time consumed finding a bin have been found to be the two most significant reasons people choose not to recycle. 

“Our new system will be consistent in bin type, graphics and color. With the new binning system and consistency in service, it will be much clearer for users to know where to put which materials,” Henn said. “Still, change requires adjustment, patience and collaboration will be necessary as the project progresses.” 

There is a learning curve with any new system, but this new system has been years, hours of research and assessment in the making. “The work I did for the Office was the most fulfilling I’d ever done and I’d finally discovered what doing work you’re made for feels like,” Swainson said. “Working on the assessment felt like putting together a puzzle. It’s surreal to know that I succeeded, and bins are being rolled out this very moment.” 

The team isn’t just setting up new bins and crossing their fingers; with their new waste sensors in dumpsters, also funded by the Green Fund, they can now track how much recycling and landfill waste is being generated on campus. The sensors provide daily data that the team has already started tracking and intends to monitor continually. They intend to examine changes in effectiveness once the new system is deployed, and they have carried out an educational campaign around waste, recycling and the new system.  

In addition, with the help of environmental science capstone students and the non-majors in ENV 101, intro to environmental science, the Office of Sustainability will conduct a pre-infrastructure deployment waste audit by examining dumpsters. Students will evaluate the amount of contamination in recycling bags and lost recyclables in landfill bins. The metrics gathered before, during and after the deployment of the new systems will allow the team to evaluate the effectiveness of the new binning system. Updating this existing infrastructure will not only increase sustainability practices at NAU but will encourage Lumberjacks to implement these good habits beyond campus.  

“We hope the entire NAU family takes ownership of this program and participates in the most optimal way,” Henn said. 


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Cynthia Gerber | NAU Communications
(928) 523-7341 |

NAU Communications