When Christina Ho moved from Hoover to Birmingham's Southside to start classes at UAB, she looked around at soft drink bottles in trash cans and newspapers in dumpsters and thought: What a waste.
"Since Birmingham doesn't have curbside recycling, unlike neighboring cities such as Hoover or Vestavia Hills, many of the residents aren't aware that they have options when it comes to recycling," she says. "I wanted to do something about it."
Now, after three years of involvement in volunteer recycling efforts at UAB, the senior biology major has begun the Birmingham Recycling Initiative on Campus and in the Community (BRICC) with fellow students Umair Khan and Haisam Islam.
Cleaning Up on Campus
Ho was first exposed to recycling on campus and around the Magic City during her freshman year. As a participant in the University Honors Program, she began volunteering at the Birmingham Recycling Center, sorting materials and transporting all of the recyclables from the Honors House to the center.
"The other volunteers and I always talked about how we might expand recycling on campus and to downtown Birmingham," she says. "Because there aren't many recycling bins around campus, especially in places where there is a big flow of plastic bottles or paper, like in the Commons on the Green or in the administration offices, we wanted to increase awareness."
Ho's wish to spread the word has been answered in part by a grant from mtvU, a division of cable television's MTV Networks. She heard about the mtvU grants, which support young adults starting their own businesses and organizations, last spring.
"At the time, I had just become coordinator of the Recycling Volunteer Program in the Honors Program," she says. "I thought the grant would be a great way to financially support and put into action all the ideas and plans that the other recycling volunteers and I had been thinking about since my freshman year."
Currently, BRICC is collaborating with the UAB Green Initiative, a new organization founded by graduate student Becky Smith that has many of the same goals, as well as the Birmingham Recycling Center and the Alabama Environmental Council. Their collective plan is to place recycling bins all over campus that specifically accept mixed recyclables so that all manner of reusable material—plastic, paper, aluminum, and more—can be collected.
"We're also planning to place a big roll-off dumpster somewhere on campus so that all the bins can be emptied, then be picked up by a truck and carried to a recycling sorting facility," Ho says.
Expanding the Message
As a biology major planning to attend medical school, Ho's recycling work is deeply connected to her studies, she says. "I'm definitely aware of how important it is to protect the health of our planet by maintaining eco-friendly practices, and I think that this plays an important role in many biological fields. For example, I'm doing my senior biology research with Dr. James McClintock, who works with marine biology in the Antarctic environment. If global warming continues as it does, it will cause irreparable harm to the Antarctic ecosystem, which could result in many resounding, long-term effects."
As she prepares to graduate, Ho plans to stay connected to the recycling efforts that have been a big part of her years at UAB. "I really look forward to everything that can happen through these two organizations," she says. "After increasing recycling on campus, we plan to have an awareness campaign in the Southside, Clairmont, Forest Park, and Lakeview neighborhoods to promote curbside recycling."