There’s many bins scattered around Binghamton University with some labeled “trash” and others “recycle” and sometimes, a student may come across one with a “paper” designation. But, once a student places their waste in a particular bin, some may wonder where it all goes.
BU has a comprehensive recycling program for plastics, metals, paper, glass and other materials which are collected by student assistants (SAs) who drive recycling or paper trucks for pick-up and work for Recycling and Resource Management. The materials are then brought to a materials recovery facility (MRF) and sorted before being shipped out, according to Martin Larocca, resource recovery manager.
Larocca began tracking waste contamination, when a material that is nonrecyclable is mixed up with recyclables, since his arrival at BU in 2011. Contamination of recyclable materials can significantly reduce how much recycling actually occurs.
In 2011, Larocca found that there was a 67 percent rate for contamination in recycling and 50 percent for compost collected. Through Larocca’s efforts, contamination is down to less than 10 percent, but issues still remain.
“There are occasional reports of the contents of recycling bins being thrown out into the garbage dumpsters,” Larocca wrote. “This happens when the SAs identify a large amount of contamination in the container. We can not bring contaminated material to the MRFs. If we do they will deny the truck and we will then have to dispose of a whole truck’s worth of recyclable material.”
Larocca went on to note that properly recycling is a vital component of successful progress.
“It is imperative that the campus community follows the guidelines for proper recycling so that we can avoid disposing of material that could have and should have been recycled,” Larocca wrote.
The rate of recycling, as opposed to material ending up in landfills, has also improved from 23 percent in 2011 to a steady 30 percent for the past few years. The 2019-20 school year did see a decline in recycling rates due to the coronavirus shutdown, with the rate around 26 percent.
Additionally, the types of material recycled or diverted from landfills has increased by 50 percent since Larocca began. Larocca also noted that the University reuses the money and material gained from recycling.
“Any funds we receive from recycling material is used to purchase new containers, educational materials, maintain vehicles and reduce the cost of recycling material that we are charged for disposal,” Larocca wrote. “As for compost we pay to have the material broken down into usable topsoil or mulch which we then use on the campus grounds and gardens.”
A major part of BU’s waste management program is excess from BU Dining Services through Sodexo. According to its website, Sodexo recycles cardboard, glass, aluminum, paper and plastic.
“Sodexo’s role directly related to recycling and composting is that of a producer of material similar to dorms or state buildings,” Larocca wrote. “The cans, bottles and compostable foods are collected from their loading dock locations by the SAs.”
Sodexo declined to comment.
Napkins provided by Sodexo are made from recycled paper and and a system called APEX monitors the energy usage of dining halls to be improved in each facility. Sodexo also composts to “eliminate avoidable waste going to landfills,” purchases bulk condiments to lessen waste and recycles its frying oil for biofuel. For more information on Sodexo’s sustainability initiatives, visit the website.
Danielle Anzelone, a senior majoring in computer science, noted that, when she lived on campus, she was not aware what Sodexo did in terms of waste management.
“In the dining halls, everything was handled by the Sodexo workers in a back room where I would assume they wash dishes and separate trash, though you can’t really see what goes on there from the tiny slots where you put your plates, so no one can really be sure if they’re disposing of food and trash properly,” Anzelone wrote.
Cairo Gaona, a sophomore majoring in Spanish, said she appreciated the University’s efforts, but critiqued the lack of transparency.
“I appreciate that they provide separate bins,” Gaonoa wrote. “So we know that the metal goes into the metal and the paper into the paper, but we don’t know where it goes after that.”
With COVID-19, some students feels that sustainability initiatives have gone down, specifically with dining halls. Aimee Rodriguez, a sophomore majoring in mathematics, said she was excited about the introduction of reusable containers with the use of the OZZI container system last spring, but is saddened to see that initiative go away.
“I was genuinely so excited about that, but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone use those this year, so I guess they stopped because of [COVID-19] which is understandable, but disappointing,” Rodriguez wrote. “I definitely think that the University is better at dealing with waste compared to a lot of other schools that I’ve been to and visited. However, better doesn’t necessarily mean that the school is doing a good job.”
Like Rodriguez, Tyra Wilson, a junior majoring in English, believes COVID-19 has presented a barrier for recycling.
“I think currently, with the prepackaging of food in dining halls, [Sodexo] is not doing a good job at all at managing waste due to their efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19,” Wilson wrote. “I think, to start with, there can be efforts to drastically reduce the amount of plastic used on campus, which seemed to be well in progress in the spring semester, but have since been halted altogether”
Gaona said that COVID-19 is no excuse for a lack of sustainability efforts.
“COVID-19 definitely gets in the way of somethings, but I don’t think it’s an excuse or a reason to just switch to nothing being reusable/recyclable,” Goana wrote. “It’s just a little bump in the road, but there’s ways to get around it safely in order to encourage students to lessen their [carbon] footprint and come up with ways to use less waste.”
Anzelone said that the University makes it easy to recycle, but advised some changes to be made.
“I’d say the University is doing a pretty good job and doesn’t leave a lot of work for students,” Anzelone wrote. “However, I think they could definitely cut down on their plastic waste and they should also consider some method to make it easier for students to recycle more of their trash. They have designated bins for plastic bottles, aluminum cans and paper, but it’s hard for students to recycle stuff like to-go boxes or plastic cups. If they could educate more students on how to properly dispose of their waste and provide more options for waste disposal, I think we could do a lot better as a University.”
To combat the contamination issues that pose a threat to recycling, Larocca offered some advice for individuals to help BU with recycling efforts.
“What we see now as the main forms of contamination are plastic bags, food and food containers that have not been properly rinsed clean.” Larocca wrote. “The best thing people can do to help reduce contamination is to rinse all of their recyclables before placing them into the containers, to throw out food soiled items and to throw out or reuse any plastic bags they may have.”
To find out more about BU’s sustainability initiatives and waste management, visit this website.