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New recycling posters aim to improve campus sustainability practices

Steve+Kohtz+hangs+informational+posters+about+recycling+above+the+waste+bins+located+throughout+Parks+Library.
Steve Kohtz hangs informational posters about recycling above the waste bins located throughout Parks Library.

New signage has been placed above recycling and waste bins as part of a recent sustainability initiative to improve the quantity and accuracy of recycling on Iowa State’s campus.

The new posters can primarily be found above recycling and trash bins located in the west and central areas of campus. In three different languages, they provide a quick overview of which items can and cannot be recycled. 

Steve Kohtz, recycling services and special events coordinator for Iowa State, said he wanted to incorporate the new posters because he has noticed an educational need for proper recycling practices. 

“Iowa State vs. Ames are two different recycling options, and there’s also so many different things that can be recycled, so I was looking for a way to communicate what can actually go into recycling bins,” Kohtz said. 

Kohtz said he is tracking the effectiveness of the posters in a study that will go through May 2024. To conduct the research, Kohtz is monitoring the recycling and waste practices in three separate sections of campus that each feature a different type of signage. 

At the end of the study, Kohtz plans to take the most successful poster design and add it to the solar compactors located throughout campus. 

The study has been running for a few weeks, and Kohtz said he has noticed initial increases in proper recycling. However, he is interested to see how the recycling trends progress through May after the signs have been around for a sustained period of time. 

“Usually people start to fall into an apathy of, ‘We know that; we’re not going to worry about it,’ and the bins start to contaminate again,” Kohtz said. “So I want to see as we get into the spring semester how it’s going to turn out.” 

While mapping out locations for the posters, Kohtz divided the campus into three sections: west, east and central. Each section contains roughly 20 buildings, which includes a variety of both student and administrative areas, according to Kohtz. 

In the west section, near Marston Hall, Kohtz is displaying a words-only version of the posters, which covers the four categories of items that can be recycled or thrown away. This includes paper, plastic, metal and glass. 

At the heart of campus, in central buildings like Parks Library and Beardshear Hall, Kohtz used more in-depth posters that feature photos of common waste items. 

“We went further, and we included images that are most used throughout student or administration’s daily life. The goal is to educate people a little bit more about how it all works,” Kohtz said.

 In the east section, which covers Curtiss Hall to Lied Recreation Athletic Center, none of the new posters will be used.

In addition to the dos and don’ts of specific items, each poster features the phrase “If in doubt, throw it out,” which encourages people to default to a trash bin if they are unsure which bin to use. 

“We wanted to encourage ‘If in doubt, throw it out’ because wishful recycling can contaminate [recycling] bins,” Kohtz said. 

To create and produce the signs, Kohtz applied for and received a grant from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. He also gained permission from Student Government, who requested the signs include multiple languages. 

Kohtz chose English, Mandarin and Spanish because they are the three most spoken languages on Iowa State’s campus. 

Kohtz said he often receives questions and requests from students regarding campus recycling, so he hopes the new posters can help provide the clarity people need to improve their sustainability practices. 

“The consumer wants to recycle. Their heart is there, but they get confused because there’s so many mixed messages,” Kohtz said. 

Students who are interested in learning more about sustainability opportunities and initiatives are encouraged to attend the annual Campus Sustainability Month Celebration hosted by Live Green!

The event, which will feature various sustainability-minded organizations, will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday on the south lawn of Parks Library.

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