Tara Pike-Nordstrom watched Revenge of the Electric Car expecting to cheer a compelling documentary that was closely aligned with her goal to make the world a greener, more sustainable place.
Instead the Rebel Recycling coordinator watched with growing annoyance as automobile executives discussed their plans for an electric car while waving plastic bottles of water in their hands. In one scene, an executive tossed the plastic bottle into the trash. That's when Pike-Nordstrom, with her blood pressure rising, flipped her lid.
"You've got to be kidding me? C'mon, you have to recycle that!" said Pike-Nordstrom, slapping her hand on her desk as she relived the moment. "It made me so mad. How can they try to be so environmentally conscious and not do that simple thing? What sort of message does that send?"
Her idealism isn't unrealistic, she said. Every one -- from the jet-setting CEO to the penniless college freshman -- can make an effort to recycle. And with each plastic bottle, each can, each sheet of paper, the world will slowly improve.
Just last school year, she helped UNLV collect 719 tons of recycled materials -- an amount of plastic, glass, paper, cardboard and food waste that equals the size of about seven blue whales.
Grassroots to Leading Program
Pike-Nordstrom began championing green living as an environmental studies undergraduate student at UNLV in the late '90s and soon put her master's thesis into action when she founded the Rebel Recycling Program in 1995.
Since 2003, she's helped the campus recycle more than 5,600 tons of material but she's nowhere near her goal to make UNLV a zero-waste campus where all trash is either recycled, reused, or composted.
"There's no excuse to not recycle and reduce," said Pike-Nordstrom, who brings her own cutlery when she goes out for lunch, cuts up old T-shirts and uses them as paper towels in her home, and washes out almond butter jars to function as Tupperware. "Anyone can bring a canvas bag or a container for water."
Q&A on Rebel Recycling
We caught up with Pike-Nordstrom to learn about what the UNLV campus community can do to live and learn sustainably.
What can we recycle at UNLV?
All paper, all beverage containers, glass, almost anything. (The a full list of accepted products is posted on the Rebel Recycling website.)
You just need to find one of the bins that are located around campus. Typically you will be able to find one on your way to any class. Our goal is to eventually have a one-to-one ratio of trash bins to recycling bins on campus and we are making progress every day.
If you live off campus, it can be a bit difficult because not all apartments provide recycling opportunities, but anyone can drive up and drop off the materials on the way to class at our recycling center. It's super easy and all recyclables can be comingled except for glass. All steel, aluminum, paper, books, and cereal boxes are collected in one container.
Why can't the glass be mixed in?
Glass contaminates paper in recycling. The glass can break. If a recycling center makes bales of paper with glass in it, the entire bale has to be thrown away at the paper mill.
Recycling seems easy enough, but what else can we do to be more sustainable?
You will often see the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" logo with three chasing arrows in a circle. I always point out to students that the first arrow is the most important; that's the "reduce" arrow.
You can reduce plastic bottled water usage by visiting new hydration stations we have around campus. These filtered water fountains are recessed into the wall and have hands-free motion sensors will allow you to fill up your drinking containers. This is just a way to reduce bottled water on campus and provide people with clean, free water.
There are already 17 around campus and another 10 on the way. (Map of hydration station locations)
Last year, about 80,000 bottles of water were purchased on campus. It's estimated that about 67 percent of those bottles ended up in the trash, not recycling bins.
And, these sales don't counting all the water that people bring to campus from home. Nationally, about only 12 percent of water bottles get recycled.
Many of our students live in the dorms or are sharing small apartments.
Any tips for recycling in small spaces?
Every dorm room has small buckets that help students recycle, and in an apartment you can easily store a small bucket under the sink.
I also urge people to explore composting. Food waste is the second largest component at a landfill, just behind paper. You can make nutrient-rich, great dirt out of food waste. We do collect food waste and send it to a composting facility. Last year we sent 126 tons of food waste there.
People have misconceptions about composting, because many people do it wrong.
If only food is in the compost, it gets slimy and stinky. You have to mix in torn up newspaper or even a cardboard box or dried leaves to cut down on the slime.
You can find an apartment style tumbler or small-enclosed bucket for composting. Don't put meat or cheese in there; just fruits veggies, coffee grounds, paper, eggshells, pasta, and bread.
When the bin is full, you can donate it to Vegas Roots or any master gardener, feed houseplants with it, or put it in the landscape of your apartment complex. It's highly sought-after material. It takes a moment to get used to the idea, but you can develop a habit.
Everyone should also "pre-cycle." Purchase things that can be recycled after they are done. For example, when buying orange juice choose the gallon container made from plastic No. 2 rather than waxy cardboard container.
I look for the least amount of packaging too and buy things that are contained in recycled content because it's supporting the recycled market.
How can I get involved?
I always need volunteers. I need of volunteers to help collect compostable materials and recyclables at various UNLV events.
We also are collecting thousands of cans for a special recycling and school spirit art projects. Additionally, I need hundreds of people to help with a Game Day challenge on Nov. 17, where we will compete with other universities to determine who can recycle the most materials at their campus' stadium.
It's all about small steps, so I hope everyone in the community will get energized and help the effort in any way they can.
For more details, contact Tara Pike Rebel Recycling at (702) 895-3760 or email@example.com.