Last week, a 40-yard dumpster was filled with recycling items and picked up from campus. It was rejected from All County Recycling due to a high degree of food waste contaminants. According to Mark Barretti from All County, the recycling load was 65 percent “good material” that was completely contaminated by food. Plastics, glass, aluminum, paper and cardboard that were placed in recycling bins with good intentions were sent to a landfill instead of being processed into new materials for a second life. The rejected dumpster is now located at the back of campus and contains materials collected from residence halls, Greek houses and academic buildings.
Scientists argue that the various types of plastic created and utilized by humans can take up to 1,000 years to decompose, left to slowly disintegrate over time while unleashing harmful chemicals into the earth. It is imperative for individuals to recycle the plastic they use so that it may be upcycled and repurposed. It is important to be mindful of how to properly recycle. This includes making sure the plastic, glass and aluminum you dispose of is clean. If not, it can contaminate the entire load.
Larry Lapidus of Trenton Waste Management said, “China, which is a leading consumer of the paper and plastics recycled by Waste Management, has recently lowered the threshold of contaminants it will accept in the materials it processes into recycled products. The new limit is .03 percent by weight, and the industry believes paper and plastics processors in China may lower to zero the amount of contamination it will accept in 2018.”
With a lower threshold, this means that even a slight amount of food contamination can render a large shipment of recyclables unusable and unacceptable for purchase. It is essential to be mindful of the quality of your recyclables just as much as the quantity because our goods, which could be going to China for manufacturing, can easily be rejected if we aren’t careful.
What can students on campus do? They can quickly rinse out recyclables containing food waste before discarding them in the proper bins. Lapidus shared some other tips. “Do not put recyclables in plastic bags, especially shopping bags,” he said, “Bring the shopping bags back to the grocery store. They will recycle [them]. These are considered contaminants now, and if too many are in a container, it can cause that container to be non-conforming. Soon, it is believed all plastic bags will be considered contamination.”
Valuable resources, such as the internet, can be used to determine what can and can’t be recycled, as well as other creative ways to sustainably dispose of your waste, such as compost gardening. In addition to properly sorting items, reducing usage of single-use plastic will help us all keep contaminates out of the landfill. The less we use, the less we waste.
— Melissa Willhouse
Printed in the 11/15/17 issue.