Photo by Anna Oprisch

Jennifer McMillin, director of sustainability

May 6, 2019

Fenn Tower students embrace recycling system

Recycling efforts on Cleveland State University’s campus have grown, and the proof is in the trash – or lack of it.


This is the case especially for Fenn Tower. The residence building implemented a recycling system a year and a half ago, and have since cut the number of trash pickups in half.


This recycling system includes a central recycling station in the basement near the laundry room of the building, one recycling bin in the trash room of every floor and one bin in every dorm room to make it simple to transport recyclables to any of the bins in the building.


Jennifer McMillin, Cleveland State director of sustainability, was a key player in making the initiative happen, after countless students expressed to her their desire of bringing a recycling system to the building.
Alethea Watson, campus sustainability intern for McMillin, lived in Fenn two years ago before the university implemented the recycling bins.


“The only thing you could recycle was cardboard, and that just wasn’t enough,” she said.
Watson and other residents went to their residence ambassador to ask about improving the recycling situation.


At this same time, Watson became McMillin’s intern. Watson mentioned the issue again and McMillen was surprised to learn about the absence of recycling bins, which sparked further action.


McMillen outlined the process as “having initial meetings with the Res Life staff and the American Campus Communities organization to understand what the situation was and what we needed to do.”


She then received grant funding through the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste district to purchase the recycling bins.


Lynn Ellison, director of residence life, commented, “Our residents have expressed interest in recycling at Fenn Tower for a long time, but the greatest challenge for us was identifying appropriate bins for the small spaces we have available for trash. We were thrilled to partner with Jennifer McMillin to finally get the program up and running.”


Ellison continued, “We thought it would reduce the trash, but had no idea it would be that significant of a reduction. We’re thrilled that the residents of Fenn are taking advantage of the recycling bins that are currently in place, and we’ll continue to look for opportunities to increase our offerings.”


McMillin noted, “The staff was really happy to train their custodians on keeping the waste stream separate and implementing our color-coded bag system – gray or black for trash and white for recycling.” Then we simply pick up their recycling and process it with ours.


“This was a really nice example of people working together to understand what the situation was, how everybody needed it to go to succeed and then finding some dollars to be able to buy the bins and make it happen,” McMillin concluded.


“I thought if we put the bin in the room and make it simple enough people will do it to make it worthwhile.”


The rest of Cleveland State’s campus has also seen positive results in the amount of waste reduced, because of the 20 new bins around the Wolstein Center concourse, 24 new battery recycling bins across campus, and 11 outdoor recycling bins outside of places including Fenn Tower, The Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs and the The Washkewicz College of Engineering.


McMillin reported that the waste-to-landfill amount has decreased and recycling has steadily increased every year from 2015.


In 2015 the diversion rate (the percentage of trash that does not go to the landfill) was 20.26 percent and in 2018 it was up to 23.61, (about a 1 percent increase every year). “So slow but steady – we’ll call it steady progress,” McMillin chuckled.


Throughout her time as the director of sustainability, her proudest accomplishment has been the creation of partnerships all over campus to divert a significant amount of waste from the landfill.


They have won several awards over the years, but she was especially excited about making it on the Princeton Review Guide to Green colleges in 2018.


McMillin’s future plans include creating a sustainability strategy to target vast areas like reducing energy, water, waste, even down to the kind of cleaning products the university uses.


She has visited many departments to understand their current practices, and even turned to students in urban studies, urban planning and environmental studies classes for a critique and feedback on the working draft of the strategy.


McMillin added: “I’m really proud of the collaborative process that’s happened with this just by people across campus sharing their ideas of what can happen in their department and how they can do things more sustainably and more efficiently.”



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