Off-campus housing may contribute to Tempe's low recycling rate

With many off-campus apartment complexes not recycling, Tempe's recycle rate is lowest in state

For all the tanning booths, gyms and entertainment centers of Tempe's glitzy student housing, many apartment complexes near ASU's main campus are deficient in one key area: recycling.

Five of the seven complexes closest to campus do not offer on-premise recycling chutes, bins or pick-up services. However, two of these complexes do have an on-site dumpster that can collect recyclables.

This is just part of the equation that yields Tempe's roughly 11 percent recycling rate, the worst among cities in the Valley, which in turn has one of the lowest recycling rates of major U.S. metro areas, according to data collected by the Arizona Republic

Mackenzie Paul, a sophomore studying exercise and wellness, lives at University House Tempe and said he has not been satisfied with the building's current recycling program.

Paul said University House has a dumpster outside of the building's ground floor where tenants can recycle. However, because he lives on the 15th floor, he often throws recyclable items down the trash chute for convenience, he said.

Paul said that he and his roommates will take large boxes downstairs to be recycled, but smaller items often do not make it to the recycling bin, adding that, "There's a lot of stuff that goes in our trash that's recyclable."

Despite the small amount he and his roommates recycle, Paul said he still thinks they make more of an effort to be sustainable than other residents on his floor.

"A lot of people just throw everything down the trash chute for the convenience of it," he said.

University House did not reply to multiple requests to comment.

Sterling 920 Terrace offers recycling services and charges each resident a fee to have their trash and recycling picked up. 922 Place also recycles and has a designated bin located on the second floor that is emptied every day.

The Vertex, The District on Apache, the Cottages of Tempe and University House do not offer plans for residents to recycle.

University House and The District both have dumpsters near their buildings where residents could recycle, but these dumpsters are not located in the building and not picked up as frequently as the ones in Sterling 920 Terrace or 922 Place.

Graeson Caspers, a junior studying communication, lives at the Cottages of Tempe and said he is disappointed that the complex does not recycle, adding that after growing up in Washington, he noticed a large contrast in the attitude toward recycling when he moved to Arizona. 

“Growing up in Washington recycling was practically like propaganda, and you couldn’t avoid it even if you wanted to,” Caspers said. “Here it’s like the exact opposite. I feel like outside of campus, I never see recycling.”

For Caspers, going out of your way to recycle is the least students can do to be a little green.

“A little can go a long way when everyone takes part," Caspers said. 

Tempe Response:

Shannon Reed, a spokesperson for the City of Tempe, said in an email that SB 1079, a bill passed in 2015 that allowed private vendors to recycle for multifamily housing, made a large impact on promoting recycling in Tempe. 

“The statute goes on to allow the city to adopt rules governing the provision of the waste/recycling services to the three types of property, so long as the rules ‘promote the availability of these services and competition in the delivery of these services,’” Reed said in the email.

To combat apartments not recycling, the city of Tempe is offering up some solutions, Reed said. Additionally, the city has hired a coordinator who works with multifamily housing to implement recycling services and is also doing more walk-throughs of complexes as well as adding recycling information to leases, she said.

Tempe also has five recycle drop-off points around the city that residents can use for free. 

ASU response:

ASU University Housing offers recycling services in every residential hall, according to the ASU website. 

The University also has a mission to become a zero-waste school through various sustainability initiatives such as composting, proper recycling and other things. 

Community response:

A local program that works to better recycling in the metro Phoenix area is Keep Phoenix Beautiful, a member of the Arizona Recycling Coalition, which is a membership based non-profit that partners with other non-profits to promote recycling. 

The non-profit's site has a section dedicated to recycling that features a compiled list of resources on local agencies' sites. 

Ashley Camhi, a biology doctoral student, is the executive director and founder of the Arizona Sustainability Alliance and uses her non-profit to try and solve various sustainability issues in Tempe, including the lack of available recycling vendors. 

Camhi said she has always been committed to sustainability, but Tempe's recycling problem is far greater than it should be, something she said she realized upon discovering that her local gym didn’t recycle.

Camhi believes many of the recycling problems in Tempe, including the one at her gym, are due to private land. When someone owns the space a company rents on, and that person does not recycle, it then becomes the other person’s responsibility, which can lead to problems.

“The city of Tempe could put a policy in place that mandates recycling,” Camhi said. “Without that, there is no incentive.”

Camhi, who has a background in economics, said she thinks economic incentives are a possible solution to Tempe's recycling problem.

“You either have policy and legislation or you have economics and incentives,” she said. “Those are your two options.”

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