Twenty-five men living in the same fraternity house can generate a lot of garbage, including the debris of social events heavy on bottles, cans and plastic cups that are often trashed instead of recycled.
At the University of Michigan, a student organization is working to introduce recycling into fraternities by offering financial incentives.
Fraternities are often disconnected from university sustainability movements, making them difficult to reach through traditional programs, said Kevin Kononenko, founder and president of U-M's Greek Life Sustainability Team (GLIST). Until recently, only one of the university's fraternities had any recycling program.
"What I had noticed on campus was that the sustainability community, or people interested in taking action on sustainable things, were very exclusive in the sense that people tended to work with people they already knew, or with people they knew would be allies as opposed to trying to engage the greater university community and expand the reach of people interested in sustainability," said Kononenko, a Program in the Environment major going into his senior year.
Kononenko founded GLIST to help expose the Greek community to ideas of sustainability. Its first program, Trust for Cups, offers fraternities discounts on single-use plastic cups, a party staple, in return for their hitting a 35 percent recycling rate. Since its launch, Trust for Cups has reached 40 percent of the 30 fraternities governed by U-M's Interfraternity Council.
Once a fraternity signs on to the program, they must institute a sustainability chair, one of their own members who will oversee recycling and other sustainability efforts in the fraternity. It typically takes about eight weeks for a fraternity to reach a 35 percent recycling rate by volume, Kononenko said.
Recyclables are collected by Recycle Ann Arbor, a non-profit organization that provides recycling services for the area.
GLIST worked with Dart Container, the single-use cup and container giant, to make discounted cups available to successful fraternities, something that can save them hundreds of dollars each year.
"At Dart Container, we are committed to supporting efforts to make recycling materials easier and accessible to residents across the country," Michael Westerfield, Dart Container's director of recycling, said in a statement. "We support recycling efforts in a number of ways, including the Trust for Cups program at the University of Michigan. It is exciting to see students making a difference to reduce waste in our landfills and believe it is an important step to a lifetime commitment to recycle, reuse and reduce waste."
Michael Lopatin is current sustainability chair at Delta Kappa Epsilon, a Trust for Cups pilot fraternity. After the brothers of Delta Kappa Epsilon voted to implement the recycling program, Lopatin placed three recycling bins he'd ordered online in common areas next to trash bins, and consistently reminded members to recycle, particularly during organized house clean-ups, he said.
"Once people kind of bought into that and it took a little reinforcing of, 'Hey, this is how we're getting those discounts that we enjoy, so we have to give back on our end,' people kind of got on board," Lopatin said. "The biggest thing is every now and then just we remind them about what we're getting back, which are these positive financial incentives."
Lopatin added two more bins near bedrooms on upper levels of the house after a survey he distributed revealed lower recycling rates there.
Some resistance comes from fraternity members who feel like they would be the only one recycling, Kononenko said. He speaks at meetings to encourage the idea that recycling is a group effort.
"You have to ignore the people that just blanket deny it. You expect that those few people that really are into it will help be leaders," Kononenko said. "What we want to do is exercise that middle ground of people that don't really care, to help them understand that recycling is super easy. And as long as you have some basic education, with the whole single-stream system, especially at times like party clean-up, you can literally just deposit all of it into the recycling bin."
In its first semester after signing on to Trust for Cups, Delta Kappa Epsilon saved a little more than $500 on party supplies, and has maintained its 35 percent recycling rate, Lopatin said. Ten out of 12 fraternities GLIST has worked with have successful programs. The group is next tackling energy efficiency, introducing basic energy-saving measures into fraternity houses.
"Sometimes, I think, the issue with recycling is that people don't see the direct impact on their life when they recycle. It's just putting it in the bin that gets picked up and goes somewhere else," Kononenko said. "So what I wanted to do on all these initiatives, this being the first one, is bring it down to a personal level and make it something that you can see that directly benefits you."