Reduce, reuse, recycle (just not at University Towers)

BY KATIE WOODS

Published September 27, 2006

For decades, Ann Arbor has been at the forefront of the recycling movement, encouraging its residents to cut down on waste. But some off-campus student housing sites, like University Towers, never got the message.

Jonathan Duggan
LSA sophomore Karen Wrenbeck poses in front of University Towers, where she lives, on Monday. The 19-story apartment complex does not have a way for its residents to recycle, so Wrenbeck takes her recylables to the LSA Building. (RODRIGO GAYA/Daily)

Located on South Forest Avenue, University Towers has 19 stories, but offers its residents no recycling options.

"I don't know why they don't offer recycling," said LSA sophomore Elizabeth Horvat, a University Towers resident. "Just last week I asked where I could dispose my recycling, and they told me that I would have to take it somewhere else."

In an interview with The Michigan Daily this week, Dena Isley, the building's property manager, said a waste management company, Allied Waste Services of Detroit, sorted the items placed in the building's trash compactor, designating and processing recyclable materials and disposing of garbage.

Isley later recanted this statement after she found out the building had switched waste management companies.

"We actually do not recycle - I didn't realize that the company we use now doesn't do that," Isley said. "I am not sure why we switched companies, but I hope to start recycling soon."

University Towers might have to start recycling sooner than Isley thinks.

A city ordinance requires owners of rental units to supply renters with outdoor recycling containers. The ordinance also requires any landlord operating a multi-family housing complex with more than three units to file a recycling plan detailing how they will meet these and other requirements.

Isley said management at University Towers was unaware of the ordinance.

Tom McMurtrie, a systems analyst for the City of Ann Arbor who coordinates the city's recycling efforts, said that in general, the city's ordinance is not enforced.

For now, McMurtrie said the city is focusing on trying to get businesses in Ann Arbor to recycle and has no plans to work on increasing the amount of residential recycling.

McMurtrie said he will listen to student concerns.

"If a resident is frustrated that they cannot recycle, they can call and we would be happy to go out and talk to the (landlord) of that place," McMurtrie said. "I haven't gotten a chance to call University Towers, but I will soon."

University Towers's lack of options has prompted some environmentally conscious students to find other ways to recycle their waste.

"I have to take my recycling to the LSA Building," said LSA sophomore Karen Wrenbeck, a University Towers resident.

Allied Waste Services provides recycling for some locations - but at an extra cost.

Recycle Ann Arbor, a 29-year-old non-profit organization, promotes local recycling efforts.

"People have been recycling for a long time," said Melinda Uerling, the program's executive director. "When we talk about the benefits (of recycling), we are talking about saving natural resources."

She said off-campus landlords have no excuse for not offering recycling services.

The average person disposes 4.4 pounds of waste a day, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That's 229 million tons of waste each year in the United States.

"If we recycle, we can cut those numbers in half," said Lacey Doucet, a neighborhood action network coordinator with the Ann Arbor Ecology Center, Recycle Ann Arbor's parent organization.

According to Doucet, not all landlords make it difficult for students to recycle.

"There are definitely some awesome landlords willing to do their part," she said.

Campus Management Inc., which owns more than 325 housing units near campus, is one.

The company works with Recycle Ann Arbor to ensure each of its properties has recycle bins. Recyclable waste is picked up once a week free of charge.

"It is up to the landlord to help students to recycle, but at the same time, it is not my obligation or any landlord's job to make their tenants recycle," Campus Management co-owner Chris Heaton said. "I just make it easy for them to do because it makes sense. The taxpayers of Ann Arbor pay for recycling, so it is at no cost to us landlords."

Various campus groups work to inform students on the importance of recycling and how to recycle. Clubs such as Enact, an environmental group, focus on getting students involved in conservation efforts.

Doucet started a volunteer program called Eagle Leaders to get volunteers to go out and educate the residents of Ann Arbor.

Tracy Artley, recycling coordinator for the University, sets up a table during move-in week and offers pamphlets as well as advice on how to recycle on- and off- campus.

"Seventy to 75 percent of the questions asked (of volunteers at the tables) about recycling have to do with students who live off-campus wanting to know how they can recycle," Artley said.