Sorting out COM’s recycling mess

By Roddy Heckelman

Regardless of the recycling labels on the bins, anything in a black plastic bag goes to the landfilll according to the Marin Sanitary Service, which empties COM’s dumpsters.

Regardless of the recycling labels on the bins, anything in a black plastic bag goes to the landfilll according to the Marin Sanitary Service, which empties COM’s dumpsters.

Recycling has become part of the routine when taking out the trash. It is so ingrained in our society that we have recycling bins, and even separate receptacles with dividers for plastic, aluminum, and paper or cardboard recycling.

We all try to do it. The reasons are obvious. Landfills are at their limit, trash abounds, and we need to reuse products and materials to keep our landfills from overflowing. More importantly recycling protects our environment from becoming further polluted. If we all know that recycling is in everyone’s best interest, then why don’t we do it at College of Marin?

We have all seen the designated recycling cans with the circular green arrow symbol that signifies a recycling receptacle, but where do the contents of those bins actually go?

As it turns out, the majority of the “recycling” bins at COM go straight to the dumpster, and from the dumpster to the landfill–not to a sorting facility, not to a recycling plant, but to a landfill.

COM biology teacher Joe Mueller discovered this and called the newspaper to report, “I changed to night classes and saw custodians throwing blue paper recycling bins into the trash–saw it with my own eyes!”

Outraged by what he saw, Mueller investigated further, and it quickly became clear that the scope of the problem was much bigger than just his office floor. It includes the entirety of the college itself.

“Around the [SMN] building there are dollies with trash cans, paper bins, and plastic or glass recycling bins. They all have black plastic bags inside them. I followed them and he [the custodian] picks up all the bags and puts them in his truck,” said Mueller. The trash bags are then brought to one of the school’s dumpsters.

Mueller further noted, “I had a thought, too much is left up to the custodians.”

To further add to the confusion, all of the trash and recycling bins in the new SMN building are lined with opaque black bags. This  makes it difficult to determine what the contents of the bags are, or where they should end up. Whether the bags are from the recycling bins or garbage cans, no one would be able to tell.

As of early April, the majority of the black plastic bags within the dumpster were actually filled with recyclables. This would not be a problem, if the Marin Sanitary Service picked up the contents of the dumpster, and transported them all to their facility in order to be sorted and recycled.

Chance Shelley, Commercial Recycling Coordinator at MSS said, “If stuff is in a black trash bag we actually don’t open bags at all, because it is a danger to our employees. Anything that’s bagged up is going straight to the landfill,”said Shelley.

This means that the multiple black bags that filled the dumpster and contained recyclables, were going straight into the ground. It is hard to believe that COM, in Marin, one of the most eco-conscious places on earth, wasn’t even recycling, we were green-washing.

Green-washing is when you claim to be doing something better for the environment, but it is really a sham. A perfect example of this is the green “recycling” bins in and around the new SMN building. They are labeled with the green arrow recycling symbol, but the contents go straight into landfill.

There are however, blue, slatted, containers around the campus labeled “Calrecycle.” If you look closer, you’ll notice that there aren’t plastic trash bags in these containers, and the door to the bin is locked. The contents of these receptacles are recycled and sorted by the California Conservation Corps.

The state has been on the leading front for recycling. Governor Jerry Brown passed a bill, proposed by Assembly Member Wesley Chesbro, which aims for a 75 percent recycling goal for California by 2020. This bill is the most ambitious of its kind, and requires every commercial business, institution, and apartment building to implement recycling programs.

One would think that Marinites would be on the leading edge of recycling programs, but one look in the dumpster tells the true story. COM’s Maintenance and Operations Director, Matthew Smyth, did not provide any comments regarding the college’s recycling problem.

Students are not in control of where the trash bags end up, but they can choose where  to put their own refuse. We all have the power and knowledge to responsibly take care of our planet, by starting small and taking care of our college.


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