Students moving into the University of Virginia last month recycled more than 15 tons of cardboard this year, less than has been seen in some previous years.
“In the past, we’ve seen it go as high as 26 tons,” said Bruce “Sonny” Beale, the superintendent of the recycling program at Facilities Management. “Some of this is because they are using their packing material more wisely. There were a lot of people who were taking cardboard back with them so they can use it again for pack-up.”
While there were sites to recycle cardboard, Beale said some students deposited cardboard in trash bins, which he said may be because they have become accustomed to single-stream recycling – in which recyclable materials are separated from waste at a central facility instead of at the source, which is what U.Va practices.
“Single-stream recycling is good because people who would never think about recycling are recycling, whether they want to or not,” Beale said. “But when you just put it all in one bin, it takes out of people’s minds the steps they should be going through with their recycling.”
With single-stream recycling, items such as paper and cardboard may become contaminated with material such as food waste and may no longer be suitable for recycling.
“No matter where they throw it, there will be contamination factors,” Beale said. “With every additional step, you can get more contaminants on it.”
About 25 percent of the municipal solid waste gets recycled in a single-stream process, Beale said, while U.Va. had about a 49 percent recycling rate in 2012.
“If you count all the residuals, such as electronics recycling and items that go to surplus property – things that are not municipal solid waste – our trash diversion rate is around 72 percent.” Beale said.
One factor in U.Va,’s recycling rate is its compost program. Currently, food waste from several dining venues is picked up by Black Bear Composting in Crimora, a commercial operation that mixes the food waste with chicken manure and wood chips to generate marketable compost. In 2012, U.Va. composted about 98 tons of food waste, said Chris Stevens, sustainability manager for U.Va. Dining Services.
Stevens said the food waste is weighed daily and that Dining Services is working on steps to generate less food waste in the first place. Dining is also trying to purchase more disposable materials, such as paper plates, that are biodegradable and can be composted.
Post-consumer waste in the dining halls is separated as dishes are prepared for washing “We thought it would be better to have three or four people doing it on the dish station than have thousands of students trying to source-separate,” Stevens said.
Students still source-separate in the residence halls, said Nina Morris, sustainability outreach coordinator for Facilities Management. This year, for the first time, there are recycling containers in each of the residents’ rooms – one for paper and one for metal, glass and plastic.
“The bins were ready to go when the students moved into the rooms and when they leave, the bins stay for the next resident,” Morris said. “It helps the students recycle by making it more convenient for them.”
Morris said the Sustainability Advocates, a student group, is organizing for the new school year. “The advocates are peer-to-peer educators on sustainability issues, one for each residence hall, to help the students get checked into sustainability concerns,” she said.
The advocates, who have been in existence for more than 10 years, are also promoting operations such as ROSE, the Reusable Office Supply Exchange, located in the recycling warehouse on Leake Drive.
“Students can get a lot of stuff there, such as binders, folders, papers, desk organizers, paper,” Morris said.
Morris already has a busy autumn planned, with several events and challenges, such as Campus Sustainability Day on Oct. 23 and a residence hall energy race in November, in which different houses compete to use the least amount of energy.
“Each class that comes in is more knowledgeable about sustainability than the previous class,” Morris said. “The University’s commitment to sustainability is a draw for many of the students, because sustainability permeates all facets of the culture. The students see it happening around them and they want to create that world when they graduate. U.Va. talks the talk and walks the walk.”