Housing warns students about plastic bags, recycling policy

Feb. 25, 2013

Samantha Morley
[email protected]

Advocates for campus sustainability believe plastic bags in recycling bins are causing more harm than good. They require a different recycling method than other items.

Sustainability initiatives began in 2002 with the creation of the Campus Sustainability Committee. Over the last 10 years, students and faculty have been taught how to recycle and compost. People are recycling more on campus, which has resulted in a 34 percent recycling rate.

Still, many are unaware that plastic bags go through a different kind of process.
“Plastic bags will contaminate our recycling stream and will get stuck in the machines,” Residence Life and Housing said in an email sent to on-campus residents.

“If UCCS does not comply with this rule, we may get fined or have our recycling refused at the recycling facility.”

“If we put them in the recycling while the other stuff is being recycled, it gums up the machine and slows it down. It costs the recycling place more money to process them, and that costs us more money,” Residence Hall Manager Chris Mellott said.

Recyclables go into blue dumpsters, which are picked up by Waste Management. The items then go to Bestway’s Material Recovery Facility.

The company uses single-stream recycling, which sorts the items into different sources. Sources include PET(E) bottles, such as soda bottles, aluminum cans, paper, cardboard and glass.

Eric Basco, the zero waste coordinator, explained in an email that “aluminum cans are a quick and easy item to recycle, and create a new item from a new one. Items like plastic are harder to recycle, as plastic resins become brittle or crude when melted down.”

The issue with plastic bags is that they get stuck. They can be recycled but not at the main facilities. The bookstore has a location to drop plastic bags for recycling purposes. The bags then get sent to a separate facility to be made into new plastic bags.

Plastics that can be put into blue bins and recycled effectively are numbered one through seven. These can include soda bottles and caps, oven-ready meal trays, water bottles and milk bottles.

One can determine the number of an item by looking for a symbol with three arrows formed in a triangle and a number in the middle. If between one and seven, it is usually good for the blue bins.

“It’s about training ourselves about what’s best to be green and what’s best for our planet. As we grow and learn about being green, we need to train ourselves, and that training sometimes is hard,” Ralph Giese, director of Residence Life and Housing, said.

To educate on-campus residents, Mellott and the Office of Sustainability put stickers on all recycling bins and announcements on suite doors.

Events such as UCCS Unplugged, Campus Conservation Nationals, Recycle Mania and the Spirit of Sustainability are also intended to educate residents.

The Spirit of Sustainability is an opportunity for individual residents and entire floors to dedicate volunteer hours to green activities on campus. The floor with the most volunteer hours will get to have a celebration.

“If we don’t start taking better care, we won’t have the resources for the future,” Giese said.