Undergraduate Student Research

As an intern in the City of Fairfaxy Sustainability Office, government and sociology double major Melissa Pennet learned that refuse workers were frequently taking recycling loads to the incinerator instead of the recycling facility because the loads were too contaminated. In SOCI 303 Melissa wrote a research proposal for how to investigate recycling practices that contributed to contamination of curb-side recycling collections. With the support of her faculty advisor Dr. Storelli, Melissa applied and received research funding from OSCAR to conduct her research, and this past semester she developed and disseminated surveys about recycling practices to a random sample of over 400 Fairfax households. Her findings indicate that the most common contaminants are fast food packaging and paper goods with food residue, and that most people contaminate because of ‘wishful recycling’, where they recycle items hoping they are recyclable. Her research will help the City of Fairfax produce appropriate messaging to combat contamination, ultimately leading to lower recycling costs and greater environmental sustainability.