Reuse, recycle or reduce?
Throughout campus, coffee cups are being thrown into recycling bins meant for paper. But is that where they should go? According to the Associated Students Recycle Center, the coffee cups belong in composting bins instead.
The AS Recycle Center is an on-campus service that collects recyclable items such as paper, steel, wood, glass, food and clothing. There is a total of 650 recycling barrels spread over campus.
“A lot of times, people won’t know what to recycle,” said AS Recycle Center Education Coordinator Marisa Fernandez. “They might recycle the wrong things or throw away something recyclable.”
The Recycle Center staff finds projector transparency sheets, food waste, beverage containers and landfill materials in the barrels where those items do not belong, Fernandez said. As a result, the Center’s staff digs through the barrels by hands to extract pieces of unrecyclable items from the barrels.
“We wear gloves, but we still have to touch everything and see everything,” Fernandez said. “So being aware of things to throw away will help us save a lot of time in the long run.”
Fernandez said that items being recycled in the wrong barrels aren’t the Center’s only problem. Coffee, orange juice, smoothies and soda all cause additional problems for the Center, since sometimes there will be leftover liquid in the containers.
Rilke Rutenbeck, the Center’s operation manager, said that once, when a staff member was sorting paper, an unemptied coffee cup in the barrels spilled onto the staff and all over other paper in the barrel, causing many pounds of recyclable paper to be sent to the landfill.
Approximately 80,000 to 160,000 trees are cut down everyday, and the Earth loses about 60,000 square kilometers of trees every year, according to a report of the Global Forest Resource Assessment in 2015. Each ton of recycled paper saves 17 trees and other resources such as landfill space, water, oil and energy, which are used to decompose and produce paper.
Blue barrels are only for recyclable mixed papers, which include copy paper, notebook paper, spiral notebooks, newspaper, paperboard, magazines, phone books, textbooks, envelope and post-it notes.
“The most important thing is that if you put something in the recycling, just think about where it’s going to,” Rutenbeck said. “If you don’t want to put it in your hands, don’t put it in the blue barrels.”
The staff has also found animals and personal hygiene products like tissues and q-tip cotton swabs in the blue barrels.
“We’ve found dead animals like mice. I guess that people didn’t directly put in, but people put in foods that attracted animals, and then they got stuck and died,” Fernandez said. “Even if there aren’t animals in there, some of the food will start rotting and smelling. I have seen a lot of banana peels [and] they just turned black.”
“The most important thing is that if you put something in the recycling, just think about where it’s going to. If you don’t want to put it in your hands, don’t put it in the blue barrels.”
The center’s goal in the summer is targeting where sources of contamination come from and how they can effectively spread messages to the people who are continually confused about recyclable materials, said Operation Manager Emma Schumacher.
Reading signs can sometimes make people feel overwhelmed, but they are there for a reason, Schumacher said.
“We realize that people see the signs every day; they go by them and I think at some point they just stop noticing them,” Fernandez said. “It’s just like blending to the wall, and they don’t look at it. So we just try to change thing up a little bit and catch people’s eyes.”
Rutenbeck said she thinks that people should not tease those who’re reading the signs and trying to understand what to recycle and what to compost. Anyone who knows about recycling should speak out, because a gentle reminder can help the community, she said.
“If you harass people for not knowing how to recycle, then they’re just going to continue to not do it. They’re not going to care, so be kind about it,” Rutenbeck said. “It is important to educate yourself, take in the information that’s available out there, not worry about how long it takes and pass on the information that you learned.”
The Center will be at Red Square to show students which items are and aren’t recyclable and explain what the staff does at the Center.
“I think it’s really interesting to learn what stuff you throw away, think about each components are and where they came from,” Schumacher said. “If you just think about it for a second, I think that you find that you can make a logical decision without having to read all specific things that are written on like what’s compostable. Trust your instinct.”