Profile: James Baldwin

The cans can add up and so can the ubiquitous plastic water bottles, never mind the stacks of newspapers or just plain  paper that seems to proliferate. It doesn’t take much to turn a campus into a trash-strewn mess.

That’s where James Baldwin and the Sustainability Department he works for come in. As Recycling Coordinator he heads up efforts to keep the campus not only clear of wasteful clutter but to turn the mountains of discards that accumulate each year into reusable  resources, all while helping the grounds crews to  keep the Huntington campus green and glistening.

The variety of containers that dot the campus and can be found in multiple locations in most buildings are a testament to the ongoing efforts.

“I’m responsible for the collection of recycled materials, as well as doing educational outreach for recycling on this campus. I speak to classes and go to dorms, for example, to talk with people about the importance of recycling,”  Baldwin says. “We’re hoping we can start meeting with departmental staff and faculty during staff meetings to let them know what can and can’t be recycled for instance.”

And not everything can be recycled.  “We can’t do styrofoam and some kinds of plastic such as yogurt containers.  Right now we’re not taking glass because we don’t sort and the company we send our materials to doesn’t take glass,” he says.  “Things that can be recycled include aluminum and steel cans, plastic bottles and any paper or cardboard that hasn’t been contaminated with food. We can’t take pizza or take-out boxes, for example.”

All in all efforts are going very well, Baldwin says.   “We’ve consistently had a good amount; people really are recycling whether in dorms or in staff and faculty areas, but there are always opportunities to improve.  We’ve kept statistics over the last three years to compare how much we collect.  We have a contract with Republic Services and they give us the amount of trash we give them that goes to the landfill and the amount that is recycled.  Currently about 20 percent of our waste is recycled. That’s a decent amount but there are a lot of universities that are aiming for zero waste.  There is room for improvement; we have a long way to go but we have a good foundation and people are making an effort.”

While most of the efforts are focused on the Huntington campus, some other locations do occasional projects as well.  Last year employees on the South Charleston campus were asked by an adjunct instructor to save coffee grounds for several months. The grounds were used in an effort to cultivate an oyster mushrooms crop in Putnam County.  According to the instructor, coffee grounds are a valuable nutrient  in growing the mushrooms which were then sold at local farmers’ markets.

Baldwin, a native of Indiana, has a B.A. in Geography from Indiana State University and a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from Ball State University.  Before coming to Marshall in 2012 he was a city planner for Roswell Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, and then worked as a city planner for Huntington for two years.  After working with Margie Phillips, director of Marshall’s Sustainability Department, in planning meetings, Baldwin says he was drawn to the academic setting and when his current job opened he applied and was hired.

“Urban and regional planning really has a focus of sustainability but on a bigger scale than building,” he says.  “It’s about creating a built environment  that encourages people to be more sustainable.  My background has definitely been in understanding sustainable issues, so this is just another application of that. “

He and his wife, Rebecca, are enjoying the outdoor opportunities, including hiking, that abound in this area.  The couple likes to travel and they’ve set a goal of visiting all 50 U.S. capital cities.  So far they’ve made it to 23 with more on the horizon.  “We enjoy seeing new places, visiting the capitals gives us a good understanding of a state, rather than just crossing the border.”