Tom Jones enjoys collaborating with students, faculty and staff to think of new ways to promote recycling. A new campus push has helped raise Clemson's recycling rate from 15 percent to 23 percent.

By Angela Nixon
Media Relations

Tom Jones likes to talk trash. More specifically, he likes to talk about what is and is not trash. As director of custodial and recycling services for the University, he’s on a mission to increase Clemson’s recycling rate, and that means taking things out of the trash can.

Jones, a native of Vero Beach, Fla., did not always aspire to work in the recycling business. His first passion was education, and he holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a Master of Education, both from Bob Jones University. While his heart was in teaching, he also had an interest in management, and after graduation, Jones got a job working for Belk, where he soon was part of the management training program.

After six years managing for Belk, Jones returned to Bob Jones where he held a number of management jobs during the next 19 years, including managing the campus snack shop, the bookstore, catering and custodial services. He started the university’s first recycling program in 1994, something he said he wound up doing “because of one simple comment made in a managers’ meeting.”

“The director of facilities management was complaining about increased landfill fees in Greenville County, and I spoke up and asked if he had ever thought about recycling. I figured, if we could keep something out of the landfills, it should save us money,” Jones said. “The next day, he asked me to develop a plan for a recycling program and be ready to present it to the president and his administration by Friday.”

Jones had less than a week to come up with a plan. In 1994, recycling was not as commonplace as it is now, so Jones had to shop around to find a company that would pay Bob Jones University for its recyclables.

“My philosophy was – and still is – ‘Why should I pay someone $10 per ton for the privilege of burying my paper on their land, when there are people willing to pay me money for that same paper? All I have to do is keep it out of the trash,’” Jones said.

To implement the plan, Jones knew he needed buy-in from BJU’s students, faculty and staff. He and his staff met individually with every employee on the BJU campus to talk about recycling. They placed recycling bins in every office and residence hall, with trash cans for non-recyclable waste in central areas. And it worked. BJU’s recycling rate went from zero percent to 47 percent in the first year of the program.

In 2006, Jones was hired at Clemson, and he brought many of those same ideas with him with the goal of improving Clemson’s recycling program. Under his leadership, Clemson has started a composting program, expanded its football game-day recycling efforts and placed cardboard bailers around campus to make cardboard recycling easier.

In January, Clemson started a new program that places recycling bins in every office and residence hall room, as well as placing more and larger bins in popular public areas. Because of these new efforts, the recycling rate for “municipal solid waste” (waste typically found in homes or offices) has risen at Clemson from less than 15 percent to 23 percent.

Jones also led an effort to increase Clemson’s recycling rate for construction and demolition waste. As a result, Clemson this last year recycled more than 96 percent of waste from construction and demolition projects.

Jones is also overseeing a new contract with Republic Services to collect and dispose of all solid waste at the University. He hopes this partnership will increase the recycling rate even more, as Republic will work with the University to monitor waste and provide more recycling bins. Jones also said the more people recycle, the less departments will have to pay for garbage collection, because the less trash there is in the dumpsters, the less often the trucks will come to empty them.

“The bottom line is this: It can cost less to recycle something than it does to haul it to a landfill,” Jones said. “Thinking about it that way gives people an entirely different motivation about recycling.”

Jones enjoys collaborating with students, faculty and staff to think of new ways to promote recycling. He is chairman of the Clemson University Environmental Committee, has served as chairman of Solid Green and sits on the President’s Council for Sustainability. He would like to use the expertise of Clemson faculty to help implement some of his ideas, such as improving the composting program.

Though he’s still a manager, Jones feels like he has also been able to tap into his education background by teaching students, faculty and staff about recycling. And he feels part of Clemson’s role as a university is to teach others about the importance of wisely using our resources.

“There are a limited number of resources available to us, so it is our responsibility to be a good steward of those resources,” he said. “Whether it’s at Bob Jones or Clemson or any other school, as a university, we should be on the cutting edge of teaching others about the value of those resources.”

Jones likes to use an aluminum soda can as an example.

“To make that one can, companies spend time and money to dig aluminum ore out of the earth and make it into that can,” he said. “To use that can one time and throw it away, only to be buried in the ground again and never reused, just doesn’t make good sense. At some point between my parents’ generation and now, we became a ‘disposable’ society that started to throw everything away. That is starting to change again, but we still have a long way to go.”