“Is this recyclable?” – This is a question you may have asked yourself recently. A more accurate question would be “can I recycle this here?” The recycling program in your neighborhood may not mirror the one here at Knox. Proximity to different types of sorting facilities, access to commodity markets, and companies’ willingness to adopt different recovery strategies, ultimately determine the kinds of materials you can and can’t recycle in a given location.
Knox has been slowly increasing the types of items we can recycle. In fact, a handy guide for everyone on campus can be found here. Not only do we have a “single-stream” recycling system that accepts many of the items you typically recycle at home; we also have adopted recycling programs for books, ink and toner cartridges, batteries, media discs, electronics, and more. The topic of our February Newletter is “Recycling at Knox (part I).” Read on to learn more!
Understanding single-stream recycling
The advent of “Single-Stream”, or “Commingled” recycling has revolutionized the recycling industry, but not without introducing new problems. Many studies have shown that people and businesses are more likely to voluntarily recycle if they don’t have to sort their materials or make room for extra bins. Recovery rates have skyrocketed in communities where single-stream recycling has been introduced.
Mixing recyclables at the source, however, has its downsides. Extra labor and/or high-tech facilities are required to sort the materials after collection. Food-contaminated materials and shards of glass can ruin or reduce the quality of recyclable paper and cardboard. Also, users of single-stream recycling interpret the system too broadly, adding many non-recyclable materials to their commingled bin or failing to separate components for easy recovery.
Some high-tech materials recovery facilities (MRFs) use magnets, electric currents, fans, and optical sensors to separate the majority of incoming materials, but even these facilities rely on human labor for a large portion of sorting. With belts moving at 120 feet per minute, workers must identify and sort the incoming materials, and they don’t have time to unscrew lids or otherwise separate attached materials. These facilities are also not equipped to handle “nontraditional” materials like textiles, ink cartridges, and batteries. Putting the wrong items in a single-stream recycling can will often result in problems at the MRF, and excess waste. It is important to bring such items to an appropriate location for recovery.
When consumers are aware of this process, they become more responsible recyclers. Pay close attention to signs around campus, or pamphlets from your home municipality, to learn what is and isn’t accepted in your recycling stream.
The ubiquitous paper coffee cup has proven to be quite a problematic item in the campus recycling stream. Perhaps it is the eco-tastic design of the Gizmo paper cups that makes us automatically associate them with recycling. Perhaps it is because we think all paper products are recyclable. But paper coffee cups, tissues, and napkins do NOT belong in the recycling bin.
Pure paper products, in general, are recyclable. The paper recycling process involves wetting the paper, stirring it into a pulp of loose fibers, extracting inks and contaminants, then pressing the pulp on a fine screen. The smooth, dried result is new paper. However, many paper products can NOT be recycled in this fashion, and if we add them to the recycling bin, chances are that they will contaminate the recycling stream, sometimes to the point of ruining an entire batch of paper.
Any paper product that has been used to contain food or beverage should NOT be mixed with other recyclables. This includes paper cups, napkins, and plates. All foods, including coffee, contain some kind of oil. When these oils spread out through the paper pulp during recycling, they act like hair conditioner, coating the individual paper fibers so that they will not mat together into a new paper product. This contaminated pulp must then be discarded, to a landfill or sewage plant.
What about the plastic lid? Can it be recycled? Remove it from your cup and inspect it. What number is inside the plastic identifier triangle? (This “Resin Identification Code” sometimes looks like chasing arrows, but it don’t necessarily mean a plastic product is recyclable.) If it is numbered 1 through 5, you can place the lid in the recycling bins here. If it is a #6 or a bio-plastic, please put it in the landfill bin.
Ever wonder what to do with the spent ink or toner cartridge from your printer? These can be easily recycled here at Knox. If you have spent cartridges at home or in your office, you can always bring them to the Mail Room, the Help Desk in SMC or the Office of Sustainability for recycling. Boxes for toner recycling will soon be available in all academic and administrative buildings.
Ink and toner residue contains harmful chemicals that should not go to the landfill. They are appropriately dealt with at certified recycling companies. At these facilities, some cartridges are melted down to provide plastic for other applications, but many of the cartridges are washed, re-filled, and re-sold as a refurbished cartridge. Since cartridge housings are relatively valuable, ink cartridge collection and recycling is often used as a fundraiser for school groups and clubs, including Knox.
Alumni Relations was the first campus office to prepare for the waste-free move to Alumni Hall. In early November, they began organizing, separating, and preserving their recyclable and reusable materials in preparation for the move. They maintained constant communication with the Office of Sustainability about the sustainable disposal of unusual items, and even hosted a giveaway party in the 50-Year Club storage room at one point during the cleanout.
Norma Rodriguez was another enthusiastic coordinator of a major storage-room cleanout. She oversaw several students in the process of sorting and packing up the Admissions department’s storage areas, and was diligent about sorting recyclables and reusables during the process. Communicating with the Office of Sustainability throughout the process, she orchestrated the donation of blankets and air mattresses to local family shelters, as well as many items to the campus Office Supply Share and the Share Shop.
Miriam Skrade volunteered to champion the introduction of deskside recycling and white paper recycling in the Athletics offices. Soon after learning that white paper diversion was being introduced to parts of the campus, Miriam requested a white paper recycling bin for the Athletic department copy room. She informed all her department colleagues about the new system, and acted as the point person to distribute recycling cans for each staff desk.
The Office of Sustainability has finalized the first Campus Sustainability Report for academic year 2013-14, an overview of historical waste and energy statistics, recent sustainability achievements, and ongoing sustainability initiatives. The document is now available for download here on the Knox website.
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