University of South Carolina

Staffer hopes to spread recycling philosophy

By Liz McCarthy,, 803-777-2848

Larry Cook believes there are a lot of reasons to care about recycling and he is hoping he can help make others on campus feel the same way.

“Another way of saying ‘garbage’ is ‘throwing it away’ but once you visit a landfill, you realize there’s no ‘away,’” says Cook, USC’s recycling coordinator for the facilities department. “Landfills are great piles of wasted materials.”

Cook first became a recycling advocate as an undergraduate at a small college in rural Tennessee where recycling was difficult and students did it anyway. But he didn’t stop there. In graduate school in West Virginia he continued working with a recycling coalition.

“If we can efficiently keep materials out of the garbage and put them on the market and make them into new materials then that seems like a win to me. Facilitating that is really exciting.”

--Larry Cook, recycling coordinator 

Maybe his interest in sustainability stems from his love of the outdoors; he isn’t quite sure how he devoted his career to recycling, but, he says, he has an appreciation for natural resources.

“There’s a balance to meet of using what we’ve got responsibly and reusing what we have as well,” he says. “The trash to treasure mentality appeals to me. I think that using something until it can’t be used any more, there’s a value in that.”

Cook has been working to upgrade the university’s recycling systems and bring more awareness to the community. Last year new recycling and trash compactors were installed around in the Russell House University Union. The Thomas Cooper Library’s recycling bins were given a face lift, including new side-by-side trash and recycling bins and clearer messaging, in April.

“My goal is to make it as easy to recycle as it is to send things to the landfill,” Cook says. “If we can make it just as easy, there’s no reason why we can’t train people to put recycling in the right bin.”

Although, USC has been built to efficiently remove trash, recycling on campus has a couple of things going against it, Cook says. There is plenty of room outside of buildings for trash cans but it is harder to find space for recycling bins. Cook is also trying to make the process for removing recycling on campus much simpler.

“There are just more steps. I want to reduce the number of steps in the recycling system so it is equal with trash and we are competing on the same level,” he says.

So far USC’s recycling changes have had an impact, Cook says. Although, the program isn’t completely self-sufficient, rebates received in exchange for the recycled materials and avoiding tipping fees charged by the landfill help to offset the costs of the program including new bins, trucks and other equipment. Also a study of the library project revealed a 50 percent reduction in recyclable materials being thrown in the trash bins after just 2 weeks.  

There’s still a lot to do and Cook wants to help the USC community learn more about recycling. Any office on campus can call with questions or to request help.

“There are a lot of different kinds of plastic out there and there are a lot of questions, so I want to be available to answer those questions and educate the campus population,” he says.   

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Posted: 08/21/13 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 08/21/13 @ 5:11 PM | Permalink