Skip to main content

Be the We: Oct. 21, 2009

October 21, 2009

Be the We


At one time or another, chances are that most of us have had to deal with the guilt of throwing away something we know to be recyclable.

This often occurs despite our best intentions, as when we finish that bottle of juice and proudly march toward the nearest waste receptacle to perform our small act of environmentalism, a lone trash can is all that greets us.

After a brief internal struggle over whether to lug the bottle around until a recycling bin is finally found, most people will simply sigh and send the beverage container off to spend an eternity in the landfill.

Fortunately, soon these small struggles of conscience will be a thing of the past. Some UW–Madison groups are partnering to improve the scope and efficiency of campus recycling efforts.

Last year, Physical Plant and the student group REthink Wisconsin began sorting trash in a few strategic locations around campus and discovered that about 30 percent of waste being collected as trash was actually recyclable.

To remedy this problem, a program was pioneered by the university’s We Conserve initiative at the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences building, in which recycling stations accepting glass, plastic, aluminum and mixed paper were placed next to trash cans in all of the common areas.

The result of this program was an estimated 30 percent increase in the amount of recyclables being collected. Such success has led to a desire for more stations, and We Conserve is currently in the process of expanding the program to include other buildings.

However, office and classroom buildings aren’t the only places where things are changing. The Wisconsin Union Food Services department recently made the transition to recyclable plastic cups and has placed recycle bins next to all of the trash cans.

Because the Union goes through more than 500,000 cups each year, the change allows a tremendous amount of plastic to be diverted from the trash stream.

Finally, We Conserve has begun reaching out to tailgaters before Badger football games in an effort to make recycling their waste easier.

Although the initiative is currently concentrating on Lot 60, eventual expansion is anticipated as a result of its positive impact.

To find out more about We Conserve and the ways the campuswide initiative is making an environmental difference, visit