Maggie Kane, Staff Writer
Recycling Coordinator Robert Townsend has a messy office. It overflows with papers and trinkets—I was surprised when he pulled up a cleared-off chair for me when I arrived. Townsend explained that he spends little time in his office during a typical work day.
Townsend gets to K early in the morning and starts work with a sweep of the residence hall recycling centers. He then checks calendars and emails before starting in on his other projects. “I’m a one guy, full-time person that organizes this recycling program for the whole campus,” Townsend said.
He oversees the Resource Exchange Program room in the basement of DeWaters, where people deposit things no longer of use to them but that still function. “We’re kind of like the last line of the waste drain,” said Townsend.
Townsend also checks logs down near Facilities Management that track the amount of paper recycling from each building on campus. The paper goes to a specific recycling facility in Kalamazoo. Other recycled items end up at different plants around the area.
When I met with Townsend last Thursday, we went on two off-campus excursions usually reserved for Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. We first drove out to the Lillian Anderson Arboretum, where Townsend has been working on a composting program.
Right now, the compost area contains yard waste from the school. By tending to the piles and turning them over when necessary, Townsend has started to produce dirt. He hopes to expand the program to include all of the school’s food waste in the future.
For now, leftover food from the cafeteria goes to the pigs. Townsend and I drove out to Lake Village Homestead farm to dump three bins of food. As the truck pulled into one of the fields, two large pigs and several piglets ran over, anticipating their meal.
“They’ve got the best meal plan,” Townsend said. Driving the food 20 minutes away to the farm takes time and fuel. The system that Townsend hopes to organize to compost food will make the process quicker and more efficient.
In the long term, Townsend hopes to turn K College into a zero-waste campus, he says, so that “the least amount of waste is being produced on campus.”
Townsend started the recycling program 20 years ago and has not run out of plans for the future. “One thing I like about this job is that every day is different,” he said. “Every hour is different.”