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University develops strategic recycling plan

November 6, 2008

“It helps that the bins are a different color and they have the triangle on them,” Manny Kenney, assistant director of grounds maintenance and recycling coordinator, said. “These bins stay put and are more attractive. They fit the campus’ aesthetics.”

Recycling bins that are usually used outdoors are actually plastic barrels painted blue. These barrels are used for events such as the Kansas City Chiefs’ training camp during the summer, athletic events and the Weeks of Welcome in which they are placed around the mall and at Knowles Center.

“It’s amazing how people forget recycling when they leave their houses,” Steve Melstrom, administrator of the Pierce County Recycling Center, said of the unsuccessful recycling barrels that have routinely been contaminated with garbage.

“We tried 10 years ago with outdoor recycling bins but there was just too much garbage,” Kenney said.

Since then, the Earth Conscious Organization (ECO) approached Kenney with the need for outdoor recycling bins on campus if the University was to reach its 2012 goal of “going off the grid.” With the help of ECO and the Pierce County Recycling Center, UWRF is the first campus to have a full recycling system, which means the campus has the opportunity to recycle everything that is recyclable.

Recycling materials, food
Available on the University’s Web site is the 2007 UWRF Recycling Survey that indicates what has been recycled during the year and how much of each material has been recycled. In the 1980s, it was a law to recycle office paper and, thus, it was the only thing recycled.

“Since individuals were required to separate the plastics from aluminums and so forth, participation was low,” Kenney said. “Since we are phasing into single-stream [sort], everything that can be recycled can be.”

Last year, there was a total of 30.71 tons of co-mingled recycled materials, which include aluminum containers, steel containers, glass containers and plastic containers. Mixed paper recycled came out to 136.37 tons, which include office paper, magazines, newspaper and cardboard, according to the recycling survey.

Other things that were recycled on campus last year were batteries, waste oil, computer components, fluorescent light tubes, pallets, composted yard materials, chipped yard materials and food grease.

Food grease, or fryer oil, from the University Center’s Dining Services, is in the experimenting stage and is recycled by the agricultural engineering program. It is turned into biodiesel to power the campus lawn mowers.

“To compost food waste takes a lot of time and effort. We are currently working with a grad student that has a grant for composting options,” Jerry Waller, director of dining services, said.

In a worm-based process, the food waste would be used for fertilizer for the UWRF lab farms. The lab farms either use it there or sell it to commercial or private growers.

“We could use it virtually anywhere, including the gardens on campus,” Waller said.

According to Waller, there is work to be done with the DNR for regulations of composting food waste from the dining services, but it could be in effect by the end of this semester.

Recycling locations identified
The four new bins were installed where there was the most recyclable materials found in the trash, according to Kenney, and they are in the highest foot traffic area on campus. In addition to the new bins, there are also recycling dumpsters near every residence hall.

McMillan and Grimm Halls share one dumpster, Crabtree and Parker Halls share one dumpster and there are two dumpsters at Hathorn Hall. There is one dumpster for the east end residence halls and South Fork Suites have one. Next to all of these recycling dumpsters are two trash dumpsters. Also, every residence hall room has a small blue recycling bin.

“ECO got the recycling bins in the dorms. There were health and safety reasons to have the big bins phased out,” Rebecca Alexander, recycling coordinator of ECO, said. “It was too hard to lug the big bins up and down stairs. This will hopefully make it easier on students.”

The four new bins are part of a pilot program because of the cost for each receptacle. According to Kenney, there is definitely intent to expand.

“If all goes well this year, there will be more. I think that we will gradually see a change,” Alexander said. 

Additional information on recycling locations on campus has been published in ECO’s newsletter sent to all students.

The Pierce County Recycling Center, located in Ellsworth, Wis., will also take various items that have the potential to be recycled. The building is open five days a week and gives the option for drop-offs for tires, toxic waste, oil and scrap metal. The center employs only six staff members running the machines that are mostly conveyor belts. The labor is mainly hands-on as the staff sort through recyclable materials.

Bales are made of same-type plastics, cardboard and aluminum and then wait in a warehouse for companies to purchase the materials. Type #2, the natural-colored plastics that usually come in milk jug form rate at 38 cents per pound. For the recycling center October is the third consecutive month of dropping prices. As technology changes, there are new ways to reuse materials. But as the economy changes as will supply and demand.

What can be recycled?
For residents of River Falls that live off-campus, recycling is collected by the recycling center. Comingled fibers are recyclable and glass, aluminum, tin and plastic containers type #1 and #2 are recyclable. Nearly all plastic containers will have a triangle with a number. The number indicates the type of plastic. Each type of plastic melts at a different temperature and contains different properties. For instance, type #1 is polyethylene terephthalate (PETE). These are often used as soda bottles and peanut butter jars.

The UWRF campus is independent of Pierce County and recycles through Waste Management of the Twin Cities. Comingled fibers and comingled containers, as previously listed, are recyclable. Anyone on-campus can recycle #1 – #7. This includes, but is not limited to, milk jugs, pop and water bottles, shampoo bottles, deli containers, yogurt containers and peanut butter jars.

Beside plastic containers, beer bottles, pop cans, wine bottles, coffee tins and aerosol cans are acceptable to recycle. Caps usually are recyclable, but should be removed from bottles. Plastics are melted and then created into new things that vary from plastic lumber to carpet and polyester.

One thing that is not recyclable is the plastic shopping bags, although these bags can be taken to many large stores such as EconoFoods and Wal-Mart. Treasures from the Heart will even take the plastic bags to reuse for customers.

“If you have to have a bag, ask for paper,” Melstrom said. “Of course, the best choice is to bring your own bag.”

Newspaper and magazines, according to Melstrom, make up 90 percent of the fibers recycled. It is shipped to a company called Bowater Inc., in Ontario, Canada, where it is de-inked and made into different paper products using environmentally safe practices. Seventy to 80 tons of paper is shipped out from the recycling facility each month, which is the equivalent to about 10 elephants.

Cardboard and other papers are most commonly recycled in the region to make cereal boxes for General Mills, according to Melstrom. The cardboard is put into a beater and it beats the fiber out of it so it can be reused. However, not all cardboard is recyclable.

“The rule of thumb is that if you pour water on it and it runs off, you can’t recycle it,” Melstrom said.

This is true for frozen food boxes, orange juice and milk cartons, some beer boxes, detergent boxes and anything with a wax coating.

Recycling practices are important
Since Gov. Jim Doyle’s challenge to UWRF to go “off the grid” by 2012, the University has created strategic plans to meet the goal that former Chancellor Don Betz accepted. The University Strategic Planning Goal 2.3.3 for 2007-08 will “pursue aggressively other sustainability opportunities in areas such as recycling.”

UWRF student Patrick Garsow of the environmental science and management department did a project last year in which he picked through selected trash dumpsters on campus to find recyclable materials. He successfully proved his point that there was a need for outdoor recycling receptacles.

“We, as a campus and an inclusive community, need to put forth the effort to make sure that sustainable development goals are not only discussed, but implemented. We can achieve this through a campus wide education program which advises students to recycle by what they can recycle, where to recycle, and how they are benefiting from recycling,” Garsow said in his report. “How much are we Throwing Away? Recyclables vs. Trash in UWRF Campus Waste Receptacles.”

Recycling is important in regard to the harmful chemicals and greenhouse gases that are released into the air from landfills. Recycling requires less energy than creating products from raw materials and helps to preserve natural resources.

“I think that it is important to recycle because, in my mind, it doesn’t make much sense financially or otherwise to let things go to waste when they could easily be reused and made into something new,” Michelle Jensen, UWRF junior, said. “With our world in such an ecological crisis it is more important than ever to start making a change and this is such a simple one that can yield a large impact.”

The old rumor of recycling centers throwing away materials no longer has any validity. The market for plastics and aluminum changes everyday, according to Melstrom.

“It was a throwaway society. If we were to live like that we would need three planets,” Melstrom said. “We believe in diverting stuff from landfills.”

Jensen said she recycles plastic bottles, cans, paper and coffee cups, but thinks that there should be more recycling bins in classrooms for paper. As Jensen is an example of an active recycler, 100 percent participation is needed from students, faculty and staff, Kenney said.

“The campus has responded to ECO, mine and fellow students’ wishes for more recycling around campus. Now it is just our job to put them to use,” Garsow said.

ECO hosts a contest within the residence halls called Recyclemania in effort to have students become more aware of the necessity for their participation in recycling. The contest keeps track of how much each residence hall recycles and awards the hall with the highest volume of material.

“Most of it is routine habits. Recycling is common sense. You can recycle more than you think and it is an easy way to be more sustainable,” Alexander said. “Students need to know that it starts with them.”