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Inside Texas Tech: Recycling for a Cause

Melanie Tatum, unit assistant director for sustainability and warehouse operations
Betsy Blaney
Melanie Tatum, unit assistant director for sustainability and warehouse operations

Melanie Tatum never dreamed recycling on the Texas Tech campus would pay off so big for students. Proceeds from the university’s recycling efforts since 2013 have led to scholarships totaling $130 thousand dollars since 2013. In the last fiscal year the sustainability program recycled almost 600 tons of materials dropped off at the University Student Housing Recycling Center.

The university began a recycling program in 2009 and four years later began using the proceeds to help students financially. Tatum says that as much as the program’s grown, it still has room plenty of room to expand. That could be done, she says, by getting more classroom buildings to make recycling bins more convenient for students.

“The scholarship winners, have the mindset: well I’m going to walk over here for this, but the majority of the people aren’t like that,” Tatum says, “ The majority of the people are going to do whatever is most convenient. So, you’ve got to make it convenient.”

Students apply for the $1,000 scholarships by filling out a form that asks three questions: What is your definition of sustainability, what have you done to support sustainability and what more could Texas Tech do?

A committee than reviews and evaluates the applications and awards the scholarships to those whose answers yielded the highest score.

“Many of these students come from areas where they do recycle, so they recycling in their high school or their church, so that gives them big points for that,” she says. “Then they talk about what Texas Tech could do.”

It’s sometimes difficult to sort through all the good ideas submitted on applications, so saying no to some students isn’t easy, Tatum says.

“There’s so many that have so many good answers…they deserve it just as much as this guy, but we go by what someone rates them. That’s kind of been the challenge, but we would like to do more,” Tatum says.

The scholarship program initially involved only students living on campus. Off-campus students’ applications began being considered in 2015. The program has provided $1,000 scholarships to 130 students that total $130,000. “Just from trash,” Tatum says.

Anyone in Lubbock can bring their recyclables to the center, which is near the university’s physical plant. Businesses that do curbside recycling for Lubbock homeowners also use the university’s recycling center. It is the only place in the city where glass bottles are recycled. It’s preferable that recyclables are separated but not necessary.

Tatum says international students and those from out of state who get the $1,000 scholarship gain a lot more. Once they get a scholarship from the recycling, she says, they are eligible for in-state tuition. “The economic impact of that scholarship is way bigger than $130 thousand dollars,” she says. “We’ve given $130 scholarships away, if 70 of them were international or out-of-state then they get that in-state tuition. That’s huge.”

Tatum says a new facility is possible, one with a conveyor belt where various materials could be more easily separated.

“If we had the right facilities, our labor costs could go way down because it wouldn’t require as much labor.”