By Heather Johns
LEWISBURG, Pa. — Recycling just got easier at Bucknell University. In July, the University adopted a new single-stream recycling system that aims to significantly improve campus recycling and decrease waste going to landfills.
"In three months we predict going from a 20- to 60-percent recycle rate at no cost," said Merritt Pedrick, associate director for facilities operations.
Single-stream recycling is a system in which all recyclable material — fiber (newspaper, cardboard, mixed paper, catalogs, magazines and junk mail) and containers (glass, steel, aluminum and plastic) — is placed, unsorted, in one recycling bin. The material is transported to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF), where it is sorted by state-of-the-art processing equipment.
Past recycling efforts on campus were cumbersome, with restrictive and sometimes confusing rules. Multiple steps were required to handle recoverable materials. University waste audits showed that, with the previous system, many recyclables were going to trash.
The Facilities team decided it was time for a change.
"Single-stream recycling has been around a long time," said Pedrick, "but it has not been a viable option until now. Advancements in technology have been improving the quality of the sorted recovered materials in MRFs, more MRFs have been constructed, and waste hauling traffic near the University has made it the right choice for Bucknell."
With single-stream, recyclables can go in one container, and many items that were considered "not recyclable" are now considered "recyclable."
Basically, everything is acceptable for recycling except organics (food and animal waste), foil and plastic wrap. Minimal food residue on items is also acceptable.
People who are used to sorting recyclables before tossing them may have questions, but Pedrick takes a relaxed approach. "Single-stream recycling is more forgiving," he explained. "If an error is made and trash gets into recycling, the MRF will sort it out." Trash at the MRF is incinerated and waste heat is used to offset energy at the plant.
"It's a major change in how we handle waste," added Pedrick. "The Facilities team has worked hard this summer making it a reality in time for the students' return. Cans, dumpsters and collection methods all needed to be changed."
However, the campus community won't change all the ways it recycles. The Bucknell Brigade, for example, still collects ink cartridges and other items to support its service work in Nicaragua.
"There are costs involved in the change to single-stream recycling," said Pedrick, "but when you look at the overall resources used for handling waste, it's worth it."
The University now makes fewer trips to the landfill (saving transportation costs and tipping fees). Less time is spent sorting materials on campus — and on educating the campus community about recycling rules. Recycling market values are better, and students in the residence halls no longer have to take their recycling out. All in all, said Pedrick, "It's simpler and much better for the environment."
Facilities' next steps will be to convert all single-stream cans to blue with permanent markings; the Elaine Langone Center (ELC) is first in line. Single-stream recycling dumpsters will make the switch to blue, as well, and a few solar-powered compactors will be placed near the ELC for outside trash and recycling.
The transition to single-stream recycling will be as easy as remembering this phrase: "See a blue bin? Just toss it in."
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