California State University, Long Beach
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Campus Recycling Center
Looking to Update, Recycle Itself

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The Associated Students Recycling Center has been a part of the CSULB campus since 1971, so it was somewhat surprising that the possibility of its closure even existed. That doubt was laid to rest in August, however, when the center got the word it’s going to remain open, with a commitment to upgrade the facility.

The center is a state-certified drop-off facility and redemption center, manages beverage container and University Student Union recycling, and provides a convenient location for students and community members. It consists of an elevated circular drive-up ramp, sunken containment area for roll-off collection bins, and a materials handling/storage yard. And though it has won awards in the past, there was obvious room for improvement.

“Nobody had really taken a hard look at the recycling center for a while,” said Richard Haller, executive director of Associated Students Inc., the entity that oversees the center. “We were pretty much reactive and adapting to things happening at the state and university level.”

But then along came Lee Johnson, a 31-year veteran of the recycling business, one of the real pioneers in California’s recycling movement in the early 1970s and someone who, according to Haller, simply tells it like it is.

“Lee came in and brought all of his expertise about recycling and basically told us our program was in really sad shape and we needed some help here,” said Haller. “He was really honest and said that if we weren’t interested in doing this anymore, then we should make that decision and plan an exit strategy. Our student officers were pretty adamant that they wanted to continue doing this, but we needed to get back on the cutting edge of recycling just as we were back in the 1970s. Right now, we’re looking for what the next big thing in recycling is and we are discussing various options. Bottom line, the program is going to stay.”

Portrait of Lee Johnson

Students began a recycling program in 1970, but as the need for a campus recycling facility became apparent, the Associated Students Recycling Center was established a year later.

In the early days, the students worked as volunteers and the center consisted of a couple of 55-gallon drums into which different glass, newspaper, and aluminum cans were separated. When the drums got full, students rented a truck with a lift gate and took them to a recycling facility. Any money made usually paid for the rental of the truck. The center has come a long way since those early days, but has not kept up with the times. Now, it’s time to look into the future.

Johnson, who was hired as the recycling coordinator in April, noted that CSULB, Orange Coast College, Humboldt State and UC Berkeley were pioneering programs in the state, but that today’s campus center has some challenges.

images of recyclables

“This place was a mess when I got here,” said Johnson, matter-of-factly. “This program came close to imploding. The first order of business was just to get on top of things. We handle an average of 5,000 pounds of material per day, so getting the place cleaned up and caught up and setting up some sort of system to handle the material in an orderly manner was vital. We are now processing materials as they come in and the grounds are looking better; simple things like that. I am just beginning to think outside the box; how to better handle materials, what materials to take, etc.”

A long-term think tank meeting involving the staff and student leadership of the Associated Students took place in August and coming out of that was an agreement to meet on a regular basis and develop and short- and long-term plans and goals for the center.

“I am very enthusiastic about it, the students had good ideas, the staff members had good ideas,” said Johnson. “I think we’re going to really revitalize the program.”

According to Haller, Johnson is going to get some help, beginning with a much-needed upgrade of the infrastructure.

“The student leadership as well as the executive staff talked about putting infrastructure in,” said Haller. “It’s something that really needs to be addressed and we’re doing that.”

How busy is the center? Statistics indicate that each month the center collects and processes more than 110,000 pounds of material that might otherwise be disposed of in landfills, including approximately 300,000 beverage containers. The aluminum cans recycled at the center in one month save the equivalent of 7,488 gallons of gasoline or enough energy to operate a television 24 hours per day for 55 years. The soda and water bottles recycled each month conserve 88,000,000 BTUs. The paper recycling each month conserves 213,500 gallons of water and 518 trees and one month’s glass recycling saves 3,650 pounds of mining waste.

“The center has been an important part of the campus and surrounding communities helping with recycling and environmental education for the past 36 years,” said Johnson. “I think with the newly committed support, we will revitalize the program, improve and expand our services, become self-supporting and continue the student vision of being 'part of the solution' for years to come.”