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Donny Addison

Manager, Auburn University Waste Reduction and Recycling Department

Donny Addison wasn't into recycling or environmental issues when he enrolled as a freshman business major at Auburn University in 2000, but as it happened, his apartment backed up to the City of Auburn's drop-off recycling center on Donahue Drive, and so he decided, "Why not?" Next thing he knew, he changed his major to environmental science and became actively involved in the Environmental Awareness Organization, a student group that focuses on supporting environmental and sustainability awareness on campus. Today, the now-adviser of that organization is in his sixth year as manager of the university's Waste Reduction and Recycling Department. As manager, he oversees the promotion, collection, sorting and marketing of all recycled materials on campus and manages several contracted services such as solid waste collection for the campus, solid waste and construction debris disposal, and confidential document shredding. Right now, his department is in the midst of revitalizing Auburn's campus building recycling program with a sorted recycling collection system. The system will put mixed-paper, desk-side recycling bins in most offices on campus as well as common-area sorted collection bins in every building. Meanwhile, Addison is taking his firm commitment to sustainability, recycling and environmental stewardship to the next level as a master's student in horticulture. His project involves recycling food and animal waste into usable product.

1. How big a problem is trash on the Auburn campus?

Auburn University is like a small town, and keeping the campus clean is a tremendous challenge, especially our parking lots and along some of the roads running through campus, and, of course, on game days. From October 2009 through September 2010, Auburn University generated 5,084 tons of trash. We recycled 549 tons of mixed paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, aluminum cans and scrap metal, and we also recycled 1,981 tons for woody debris and construction materials such as bricks and concrete. With all those materials combined, we diverted 33 percent of Auburn's waste from the landfill. I feel that overall Auburn University does a good job of trash collection and disposal, but everyone on campus needs to become more aware of litter and do their part to pick up their own trash and littered items when they are on campus.

2. Speaking of game days, what do home football games mean for your department?

Home games are a full weekend for us. Every football Saturday, we place more than 200 recycling bins in tailgate areas around campus and another 100 inside the stadium and also have dumpsters for cardboard only at Jordan-Hare, for all the cardboard boxes from the concession stands and catering. We have student volunteers go around in bright yellow T-shirts, handing out trash and recycling bags to tailgaters, plus, we have our "Get Caught Recycling" program. How that works is, before each home game, we "catch" a fan in the act of recycling, and they get their picture on the jumbotron, their name announced in the stadium and a football signed by Coach Chizik. We also run a jumbotron ad during the game that encourages fans to use our trash and recycling bins throughout the stadium and tailgate areas and to "Keep Campus Clean & Green."

On Sunday morning after a game, our staff comes in and collects all the bins and bags of recycling, and we centralize them at the Food Services Warehouse on South Donahue Drive. At 1 p.m., 50-plus student volunteers come to the warehouse to help sort through the material. During the 2010 football season, we recycled 22.35 tons of bottles, cans and cardboard. This season, we're hoping to break 30 tons.

3. How has Auburn's recycling program evolved in recent years, and what changes can we expect to see in the coming weeks and months?

From 2005 till 2008, we used a single-stream recycling system on campus, which meant we collected all recyclables mixed together—plastics, paper, cans and cardboard—and sent the material to SP Recycling in Forest Park, Ga. When the economy tanked in 2008, the market for recyclables dropped drastically worldwide and SP could no longer afford to accept Auburn's materials, and that forced us to make some significant changes to the way we collected recycling on campus. We switched to a dual-stream system, in which the different materials are placed in separate bins making it possible to market the materials to local and regional companies. In 2009, the first full year of the transition, we generated $14,300 in revenue. In 2010, as the material prices recovered some, we generated $56,500. We got a lot better at selling our recycling. Right now, our goal is to get recycling bins in most of our core campus buildings by the end of spring semester 2012. Read more about the new recycling program here.

4. How is Auburn's Waste Reduction and Recycling Department funded?

We are base-funded by the state of Alabama, but we have successfully applied for four grants in the past four years totaling more than $160,000, and that has helped offset equipment, promotion and collection cost. Our recycling services are free for campus customers, but all solid waste services do come at a cost. 

Most of our grant funding comes from the Alabama Recycling Grant Fund administered by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Two years ago, the university partnered with the City of Auburn, the City of Opelika and Lee County to form the East Alabama Recycling Partnership, which gave us more leverage in applying for the ADEM Recycling Grant Fund, and in the past three years, the partnership has received three grants totaling more than $500,000. 

5. In terms of waste and recycling, what's the most important message you want to send the rest of the Auburn campus?

There are two points I want to stress in terms of how we view waste. The first is waste reduction—things like using duplex printing, bringing your own reusable water bottle or coffee mug and only ordering what you need, and tracking what you don’t distribute so we can reduce waste on the front end.

But the second is, we all need to recycle, not just for environmental reasons but for economic and social reasons as well. In the Southeast, recycling is not as predominate as in other areas of the country and world, mostly because we have cheap landfill fees and limited access to material recovery facilities. We need to start viewing recycling not just as an environmental responsibility, but also a social responsibility because the recycling industry creates four jobs for every one job created in the waste management industry. Education for program participants is huge. The Auburn University community needs to not only know what and how to recycle, but also understand how recycling impacts our society. If there is any time to start recycling, it's now.

Oct. 17, 2011