Recycling Education: Help Minimize Waste in Landfills

By Laura Schmidt, Sustainability Resource Center

It’s important to reduce consumption and reuse items when possible, but it is vital to know your recycling system so you can use it correctly when reuse isn’t an option. Recycling systems vary by where you are, so for the past two months I’ve spent lunch hours teaching other students about how and what the University of Utah recycles.

My time coaching my peers on the U’s recycling system has been an insightful experience. People were eager to participate and learn more about recycling. In the process, I, too learned about recycling.

Each year, the University of Utah participates in RecycleMania. As an annual competition between colleges across the United Statrmlogo_new w reg. markes and Canada, RecycleMania aims to increase recycling on campuses. Recycling waste and trash is collected and weighed weekly. Using that data, colleges are rated and ranked in various competitions. This year, RecycleMania helped reduce 126,597 metric tons of CO2 equivalent by promoting campus recycling. The total is about 5,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalents more than last year’s challenge.

In the competition, the U placed 127th with a recycling rate of 28.3 percent. While this may not seem like much, consider this: Two years ago, the U placed 255th. (It doesn’t hurt that our rate was eight percent more than BYU’s this year.)

To engage the campus in recycling during RecycleMania, the Sustainability Resource Center created a recycling game for students, staff, and even faculty to play that we set up outside the Union cafeteria a couple of times a week. We chose six items that someone may encounter when approaching the recycling bins or trash. We asked participants how they would recycle each item in a set of mini-replica versions of the University’s recycling bins. Participants were excited to try to place the items in the correct recycling bins. It didn’t matter if someone placed two or all six items correctly; it seems as if everyone who stopped by learned something new about recycling.

Where would you put these items?

In which of the four bins would you place these items?

So, where do these items go? The aluminum can should be placed into the aluminum bin. As for the aluminum foil, it’s good practice to clean the foil before recycling it. However, campus has an individual bin for aluminum (as opposed to single stream recycling) and  you can throw away soiled foil only into bins where paper products are not placed. For materials made of plastic, check the number on the bottom of your plastic materials. Main campus accepts only plastics #1 & 2. The bowl in the picture is a grade #5. Take the bowl home and recycle it into single stream or throw it away. The bottle, plastic #1, can be put into the plastic bin. Used newspaper can be thrown into the mixed paper container. The tea wrapper is a composite of paper, plastic, and aluminum. Throw that into the trash. See the recycling table below for clarification.

The U's "recycling quad:" mixed paper, aluminum, plastic #1&2, and trash.

The U’s “recycling quad:” mixed paper, aluminum, plastic #1&2, and trash.

I acted as the main organizer of the recycling game. The most important lesson during my recycling education sessions? Recycling is easy, but the details of what can go in each bin is worth learning and remembering. Paying attention to the items that you are disposing is important. We must all do our part to reduce contamination and keep unnecessary items out of our landfills.

So how can we be mindful of what is recyclable on main campus and what is not? Recycling resources are everywhere! First, included at the bottom of this post is a table that provides details on the U’s system. To further your knowledge, read the recycling container and see exactly what can go in there. Engaging in dialogue about recycling on main campus is also helpful. Finally, ask questions. Seek clarity; don’t just make assumptions about what can and can’t be recycled. Assumptions lead to contamination and more waste ending up in a landfill.

Use the following chart to help with recycling at the University:

Material Acceptable items Common contaminants
White paper
or “office pack”white paper
White printer paper, pastel paper, envelopes, index cards, manila folders and envelopes (plus no need to remove staples, paper clips, and tape!) Newspapers, magazines, cardboard, tissues, paper towels, paper cups, food wrappers, and pizza boxes
Mixed paperMixed_Paper.194140157_std Newspapers, advertisements, magazines, paperback books, colored paper, envelopes, folders (plus no need to remove staples, paper clips, and tape!) Cardboard, tissues, paper towels, paper cups, food wrappers, and pizza boxes
Plasticplastics Only #1 (PET) and #2 (PE-HD) can be recycled on main campus Plastics #3-7; read more about symbols here
Aluminumcan recycling 200sq Soda and other cans, aluminum foil Food-soiled foil, liquids

Laura Schmidt is a graduate student in Environmental Humanities. She is a graduate assistant in the Sustainability Resource Center.

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