The Vigo County Library – Recycling Champs

The Vigo County Public Library has recycled the weight of two compact cars (7,000 pounds) since April, this after an employees’ initiative to recycle library-wide.
About a year and a half ago a survey was sent around for every employee to participate in. On the survey was a question asking if the employees would like to see more recycling in the library. Before, the library was only recycling cardboard, books, cans and newspapers on occasion. “It was an overwhelming majority who said, ‘yes,’” VCPL associate public training specialist Ashley wadsworth said.

Right Bin, Right Place

Shortly after the survey results were concluded, Wadsworth formed a green committee. Collectively the committee worked to figure out the best places to put recycling bins in each department. Because each department discards different types of materials, the bins are not the same throughout the building. Young People’s librarian Hillary Rains says in her department they need only mixed and white paper bins, but in technical services where all the new books come in, they need plastic, cardboard and aluminum bins to discard all of the packaging properly.

The green committee formed a relationship with Indiana State University’s Recycling Center and obtained large blue bins to put around the library. At ISU they separate every color of glass and paper into different bins. To stay in line with ISU’s practices, the green team started off with many different types of bins for the same product. At first, Wadsworth admits, they overwhelmed the staff with the many different kinds of paper to separate. In the end they decided on white paper, mixed paper and newspaper.

“We said if that is what you want in your department and that is easier for you, then that is fine. That cut down on a lot of the anxiety,” Wadsworth said.

To make compliance as easy as possible, appropriate but much smaller blue recycling bins have been placed under many employee desks. Furthermore, they have similar bins prominently displayed in public areas, so patrons can participate. In the computer lab, stacked two levels high, are four recycling bins, each labeled specifically. Rains understands the public doesn’t always pay attention to the signs and sometimes recycle bins can easily turn into trash bins. To overcome this obstacle, the green team purchased recycling bins with lids.

“I think the lids help. You have to lift up the lid, so it is obvious that it is not just a trash bin where you stick an item in a circle hole,” Wadsworth said.

Naturally though, the green team noticed the public wanted to recycle. The practice of recycling could not be more prominent than where the paper wire bins sit around the reference desk. A tiny sign with a recycling logo and the word “paper” has motivated folks to leave paper they no longer want in the wire basket.

The Message Hits Home

Reference librarian David Dkite says he has always made an effort to conserve and not use as much, but as far as recycling goes, it has generally been a lot more inconvenient than tossing it in the trash. After seeing how easy recycling is in the workplace, he started recycling at home. Now he says he has a pile of cardboard and plastic next to his trash at home.

“It has cut my trash load in half. I don’t know if individually I am making much of a difference, but collectively I imagine I am,” Dkite said.

Employees who have been recycling for a long time started looking for ways to reduce instead of just recycling. A prime example is the inter-library loan books, which contain a slip of paper on top. One of the inter-library loan librarians redesigned the paper slips to increase the number of slips that would print out on one piece of paper from two to three.

In addition, Ashley added a line to the end of her email that reads: “Green is the new black, think if you need a paper version of this email.” That one little line has caused her fellow co-workers to be cognizant of their actions.

“Somebody said to me, ‘Since you did that, I think about that, even if it is not an email from you. You made me think,’” Wadsworth said.

How the Green Team Did It

Starting with a committee allowed more people to become vested in the project, which in turn made it easier to implement.

“We tried to get one person from each department, especially from the bigger departments so that they would watch their own people and kind of encourage them,” Wadsworth said.

Overwhelmingly Rains and Wadsworth say 99 percent of the battle is making it easy. They used to have an aluminum bin downstairs by the vending machines, but there would still be cans in the trash up on the main level, because nobody wanted to walk downstairs.

“We had to make it right in their face, because if it is not right in front of their desk, or near their desk, they don’t want to walk where it is not convenient for them,” Wadsworth said.

Ultimately, the success of the program can be attributed in part to the maintenance staff.

“We have a great maintenance department. When they go around to collect trash, I see them pull cans and bottles out of the trash and put them in recycling. They are kind of our last line of defense,” Rains said.

Now, three times a week the maintenance workers have to lift, by hand, large bins into the back of a pickup truck, drive the goods to the ISU Recycling Center, unload the bins and bring them back. It is a chore that is by no means convenient for them but one they are willing to do to support the library’s efforts in going green.

-Jane Santucci