Recycling at center of Earth Week

Matthew Busch/The Herald
Carol Hanneman, director of the academic support center and co-adviser of the ecology club at Vincennes University Jasper Campus, made her way with Dave Bailey of Jasper, dressed as Plastic Man, to VUJC’s Spring Fling at the gym in the Ruxer Student Center on Thursday morning. Bailey, secretary and treasurer of the ecology club, dressed as Plastic Man to help spread awareness for Earth Week.

Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — Plastic Man strolled across Vincennes University Jasper Campus on Thursday afternoon, empty Gatorade and Dr Pepper bottles hitting his knees and elbows as he spread his important message to the students gathered at the school’s Spring Fling.

When the plastic hero entered the fling in the Ruxer Student Center, the band stopped playing and heads turned. He struck a pose, letting the bottles do the talking. He was there to remind the students to recycle.

Plastic Man spends most of his days as Dave Bailey, a 22-year-old student in his last year of study at VUJC. As the secretary and treasurer for the campus ecology club, he is game for anything, from helping plant hundreds of trees on college land to allowing staff to pin dozens of plastic bottles to his shirt and pants for an awareness event.

“I’m a hippie and I like recycling,” Bailey said as he waited in the academic resources office before heading to the student center, donning his black mask to help hide his identity. “Hopefully I’ll get people to throw their bottles in the bins.”

Bailey’s appearance as a recycling superhero was part of the college’s sixth annual Earth Week put on by ecology club students and their two staff advisers, English professor Jan Stenftenagel and Carol Hanneman, who directs the academic support center. The yearly event began in 2008 as Hanneman’s master’s degree project and grew from there, always falling on the week of April 22, national Earth Day. She explained that the activities and speakers change each year, but this year the main mission is to promote on-campus recycling.

“We can only recycle plastic, paper and aluminum cans, and it took us a while to get that. We’ve been fighting for that for a long time.” Hanneman said, adding that the campus program started two years ago after a big push by the ecology club. The Dubois County Solid Waste Management District picks up the refuse from a storage shed the campus established behind the student center.

There are bins located on every floor of each campus building, but Hanneman is concerned that not enough students are aware of the program. She picked up a sack full of trash sitting on a table in the New Classroom Building as part of an Earth Week display. The bag represented the amount of garbage produced by one classroom.

“This is just one class worth of students in one day, and this is what could have been recycled but wasn’t,” she said, holding up a second sack filled with several plastic bottles that had been thrown away along with the various McDonald’s wrappers and Kleenex tissues. “Our mission is just to raise awareness.”

The Earth Week events began Monday with a presentation from solid waste Director Lee Kraft about the journey of garbage in the area. His talk was followed by another on Tuesday from VU main campus alumnus Justin Robinson, a 2011 graduate who has dedicated his time to starting a recycling program at the college.

“All the other universities in the state have recycling programs,” he told the dozen or so assembled guests. “They do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

Robinson explained that the main campus is way behind the curve in terms of eco-friendly disposal, and he is concerned that grade-school children are being taught that recycling is mandatory, but when they tour the VU campus they cannot find recycling bins for their water bottles.

Robinson said 70 percent of typical garbage by weight is recyclable. Keeping that out of the landfills can save money by lowering landfill disposal fees, and recycling can actually bring in revenue if the school sells the aluminum, plastic and paper.

Hanneman said the Jasper campus has been successful with its limited recycling program because it is much smaller than the main campus and so there was no need to hire a dedicated sustainability coordinator. Still, she is hopeful that Jasper students may soon have the opportunity to recycle even more materials, including glass.

In the meantime, spreading awareness of the current program is a top priority for Bailey, his alter ego and his advisers. They all know the program cannot help to bring change for the environment unless more people contribute to the effort and keep their recyclable plastic, paper and aluminum out of the trash cans.

“You have to have everybody be willing to do the work,” Hanneman said.

Herald Staff Writer Alexandra Sondeen contributed to this report.

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