See also: “Low recycling rates in Utah contributing factor in global waste issue“
Local community members and business owners have made a concerted effort to improve recycling habits and opportunities as concerns about environmental issues grow.
BYU Earth Stewardship Club officer Zach Clement said his frustration with the lack of environmental concern in Provo was a major motivating factor in his decision to join the club. He wanted to surround himself with people who cared about the environment and wanted to make a difference.
“The biggest problem I see is that the institutions just aren’t there for recycling to happen,” Clement said. “I think people just don’t know what’s recyclable and what’s not recyclable, and that’s a big problem too.”
Increased education about sustainability and recycling can make a big difference for future generations, according to Recycle Utah communications director Haley Lebsack.
As a part of its youth education programs, Recycle Utah visits local elementary schools and teaches students about sustainable living.
“They have complete power to decide what their future is going to be, and our goal is to help them become environmental advocates for their own future,” Lebsack said. “Kids soak up knowledge, and they’re happy to tell their parents. They’re not afraid to speak up. I see the greatest change in communities where they educate the kids.”
Lebsack said students are excited to learn about the world around them and how to take care of it. The more educated young people are, the more likely they are to recycle.
Clement said that while he was frustrated by the lack of environmental concern around him, he thought the BYU campus offered more recycling opportunities than apartment complexes.
“I think recycling on BYU campus is a lot better than just Provo in general,” Clement said. “For example, it’s really frustrating to see at different apartment complexes people just throw away recyclable items because it’s easier or because the recycling bin is too far away.”
Recyclops founder and CEO Ryan Smith works to bring recycling opportunities to underserved areas, including apartment complexes.
He said he was first inspired to start the company when he was a BYU student and noticed the lack of recycling options at his apartment complex. Now he wants students to know they can recycle no matter where they are.
“Recycling is 100% doable at your apartment, and it’s doable for very cheap or for free. The city has public drop-off bins,” Smith said. “Our service only costs $10 dollars a month for an apartment, so if you’re splitting that up with six people, you’re spending less than two bucks a month.”
Smith said his goals for the future of the company include bringing recycling to over one million homes in the next five years.
The Provo community has been working to improve recycling conditions for students over the last eight years.
Provo sustainability advisor Don Jarvis said that while there are still many improvements to be made, the city has come a long way.
“Just when I came on, Provo moved from an opt-in recycling system to an opt-out system, so that’s increased recycling locally,” Jarvis said. “In an opt-in system, people have to contact the city to get recycling, but in 2011 we shifted to an opt-out system, which means that everybody would get a recycling bin unless they opted out.”
Provo currently has three free recycling stations and one glass recycling center.
Jarvis said that even though many student apartment complexes don’t offer viable recycling options, students can ask their landlords to support recycling, and they can check the student housing guide to see what complexes do offer recycling options.
Jarvis also said students can take an active role in improving sustainability by voting to support environmentally concerned political representatives.
“It’s important for students to realize they are living in the real world right now, and they can have an impact. They just need to be aware,” Jarvis said. “In the long run, the environment is one of the most important issues to pay attention to, and we need to elect people who will help with that.”
While recycling is important, Lebsack said the best option in terms of sustainability would be to eliminate plastic completely.
“People have realized that just because we’re recycling plastic doesn’t mean that’s the best option. The best option is to cut the use of plastic out completely. The best option would be reusable bags and reusable straws. That’s really where we need to go with the plastic issue,” Lebsack said.
For Clement, living an environmentally friendly life is more than a political decision. It’s a testament of his faith and gratitude to God.
“I think trying to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle is really important in general. The way that we treat the earth shows a lot about how we feel about our fellow human beings and how we feel about God,” he said. “I think that students and everyone needs to be more conscious about their actions regarding the earth.”