Mason’s Recycling Efforts Provide a Cleaner, More Eco-Friendly Campus

Posted: August 7, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Ron Lim loves talking trash, but as the manager of recycling and waste management at Mason, he is really specific about what he means. One of the biggest challenges facing Lim and his crews in their efforts to keep Mason beautiful and environmentally responsible is people who don’t — or won’t — read.

“It is very much a throwaway society,” he says. “We try to make it easy for people [to recycle]. Sometimes people would rather just throw something away then take a couple more steps over to one of the recycling cans.” Or the opposite occurs.

Ron Lim, recycling manager
Ron Lim, manager of recycling and waste management, says the volume of recycled material at Mason has increased and people are more environmentally aware.
Photo by Nicolas Tan

Even though the recycling containers are all clearly labeled and have lids different from those on the trash cans, the crews on campus consistently find containers of recycling that are contaminated by the remains of someone’s lunch.

Yet Lim is optimistic. He believes the tide is turning and people are becoming more environmentally conscious. “Our volume has definitely gone up,” he says, “and I think overall awareness of environmental issues is making a difference.”

Lim first came to Mason in 1989, the year Mason started its recycling program, as the head of one of the recycling crews. At the time, he was working for Northern Virginia Training Center (NVTC), located just down Braddock Road from the Fairfax Campus. One of his crews still comes from NVTC.

“My people make me look good. These guys don’t miss work,” he says of the high-functioning people with disabilities who work for him. “They are always very enthusiastic about the job.”

The university began its recycling program with five buildings on the original Quad, two carts, and one worker. Now the program encompasses more than 40 buildings, 12 crew members, three classified employees, and a number of wage employees.

The newer buildings have helped make a difference, particularly the residence halls like Potomac Heights, which have dedicated space to accommodate recycling containers, according to Lim.

Fortunately Lim is not alone in his efforts. For the fall semester, he will be working with students from the Fostering Sustainability in the 21st Century class, taught by Andrew Wingfield and Susie Crate in New Century College, to find ways to reach out to resident students and others to increase volume as well as awareness. He has also received help from campus organizations such as Students for a Democratic Society, which take responsibility for the recycling containers in certain areas on campus.

What the university recycles extends far beyond mixed paper and soda cans. The list includes shipping pallets, refrigerant, cooking and motor oil and fluorescent tubes. And Lim’s group goes so far as to disassemble broken desks into recyclable wood and scrap metal.

For all the environmental benefits, recycling “has never been a money-making venture,” he says. “We do get revenue from it, but it doesn’t make a profit.” For one thing, recycling receptacles, which cost more than $100 each, have a tendency to disappear. “I understand the big cans fit a quarter keg perfectly,” says Lim. “Then when it snows, people will rip off the lids to shovel snow. Or sometimes they are used as sleds.”

However, for many people, trash is “out of sight, out of mind,” Lim says. He is more likely to get calls for something messy than compliments for pristine parking lots, although he has received some of those. “I don’t want us to be obtrusive. I would rather people just notice that the recycling containers are empty or the parking lot is clean.”

Write to at