By Jennifer Truong
If you have a paper plate with food residue on it, should you recycle it?
As a member of the ART on ART team (ART’s own auditing team), I am reading reports from past ART teams that focused on these very issues of recycling, especially on the issue of the questionable “For Food Without Waste Only” label on most UCLA trash bins. The issue first came to attention when the Recycling action research team surveyed students in 2011 about their knowledge of recycling and the campus recycling system. Their results revealed that about 67.60% of the students were confused by the bin labels, which was an overwhelming amount for a campus that planned to reduce its waste to zero by the year 2020.
To tackle the confusion, the 2012 ASUCLA team designed new signage for the trash and recycling bins on campus. Once the team showed passersby the new labels, a majority of the public (74%) approved of them. At the same time, 85% of the public mentioned they would like to see the campus-wide system being implemented within ASUCLA facilities themselves, since the recycling systems of the two entities were disconnected from each other. Whether the new labels or the changes in recycling systems in ASUCLA were implemented were questions left hanging in the air. In the following year, a different ASUCLA team focused on improving the recycling bin labels at ASUCLA facilities by designing different signage as possible alternatives to the current bin labels. However, their work gathered different results: a majority of the students (73%) did not approve of the team’s signage, even though it was more informative (compared to ASUCLA’s current bin labels) about which items were recyclable.
How successful were they? One clear sign of success would have been a drastic change in the bin labels; I would have liked to see graphics of recyclable items suddenly appearing on them. However, whenever I walk on campus, I still see the “For Waste Without Food Only” plastered on every trash bin. I still see the paper Coca-Cola cups in both trash and recycling bins. The difficulty of determining and satisfying student preferences in waste management complicates the issue of the current bin labels and the campus recycling system as a whole; it is an ongoing obstacle that deserves continuous ART study in the present and the future.