Pitt competes with other schools in RecycleMania

By Emma Kilcup

The plastic bottle from your lunch is about to go on an adventure.

The process begins in a… The plastic bottle from your lunch is about to go on an adventure.

The process begins in a recycling bin. If the bin is not too contaminated by trash — which can go a long way toward preventing recycling — a custodian takes it to where contracted recycler Allied Waste Services picks it up and takes it to Pittsburgh Recycling. What cannot be recycled at that facility goes to Greenstar Recycling.

Scott Dellinger, East Region Recycling Consultant of Greenstar Recycling, describes the continuation of the cycle once it reaches Greenstar.

“We do not refine material, we just recover it,” Dellinger said.

He explained that they separate the paper from the containers by using star screens that extract paper. Glass is sorted by color, put through a screen where nonferrous material is used to recover aluminum. After that, only plastic is left — including that plastic bottle — which the facility sorts by using a light to identify its color. Once all of the material has been separated,  Greenstar uses heavy-duty balers to create big cubes of the recycled waste to ship off to a mill where they’ll be further refined, completing the cycle.

For Dellinger, it’s a process that just makes sense.

“Landfills run out of space. You can throw it away; that’s your choice,” said Dellinger. “As for plastic water bottles, every bottle has a high percentage of oil. So if you throw away your plastic, we have to buy oil. We have to depend on foreign sources, but it’s very easy to recover plastic.”

“Easy” is not a word that’s often been associated with recycling in the past. But on-campus efforts toward reusing have grown over the years, along with related outlets for students. Still, not all of the efforts have reaped rewards. Seth Bush, the coordinator of Pitt’s Green Fund, a group that helps coordinate sustainability projects on campus, said that the University should have much more recycling than waste because of the high amount of paper and plastic containers used. He agreed that waste disposal is an individual’s choice, but there are options other than the garbage bin.

Bush said, “When making a product, you take raw material, and that is processed in a factory and made into a bottle. You can do a few things with that bottle: You can throw it out, which means we have to pull more raw resources; you can recycle, which puts the material back into the cycle that can be made into something like a bench or jacket; you can reuse, like refill a water bottle and use it for a few days. Also, you can always reduce and not buy it if you don’t need it.”

Both Bush and Dellinger know that materials should be reused rather than sit in a landfill.

In today’s world, almost everything is recyclable. Bush explained that the University only used to recycle plastics numbered one and two — grades of recyclable plastics — but now the University recycles plastics one through seven. Water bottle caps are fine to leave on the bottle now, making it even easier just to toss bottles right into bins.

“What you’re doing is a smaller action of a larger movement — you have a smaller incentive to take part,” senior Casey Bradford said. “It’s like voting. If there are lots of people who are voting, there’s less of an incentive because your vote doesn’t matter. If it was easier, like on the Internet, more people would.”

On Feb. 5, Pitt started competing with universities around the country for a top ranking in just that — recycling. RecycleMania spans eight weeks, ending March 31, during which the University’s sustainability efforts will be recorded and measured against others’.

Last year, Pitt was ranked 162 of 289 with a 26.16 percent overall recycling rate. Pitt ranked at 144 the year before that, but the competition was only out of 267 schools. Since then, Pitt has improved in waste minimization, increasing its position by 2 percent and moving up six ranks, all in spite of other universities’ student populations also becoming more involved.

Pitt shows potential this year in its paper recycling aspect. In the pre-program statistics, Pitt has displayed advancement in the paper and cardboard categories, although it seems to have slacked in the overall recycling rate, dropping to 38.28 percent. The contest has yet to begin, though, and by appealing to students’ competitive natures the program hopes to create motivation to participate.

Between 2010 and 2011, Pitt moved from a C to B- on the College Sustainability Report Card. The administration moved from a B to an A as Pitt, according to the report card, “incorporated sustainability into the campus master plan and strategic plan.” For food and recycling, the University received an A. The student involvement grade moved up from a C to a B, due mostly to clubs and student researchers.

Pitt first entered the RecycleMania competition in 2008, as planned by Bush, then president of Free the Planet, a student environmental advocacy group. Bush’s new project, the Green Fund, was officially written into Pitt’s Student Government bylaws in December of 2011. The Green Fund Advisory Board helps fund projects and improvements for a sustainable campus.

Already, the board has plans past RecycleMania.

“By mid to late summer, Greenstar is bringing equipment to recycle plastic bags. As an initiative to reduce plastic, we also hope to hand out reusable bags to all students, which are usually made of recycled materials too,” Bush said.

Bush explained that RecycleMania, which has been a good incentive for students to recycle more and waste less, also helps Pitt’s Facilities Management to figure out “hot spots” around campus where permanent bins should go. In addition to those that exist already, Bush explained that there will be more “trifecta” bins installed around campus.

With bins abounding, recycling is becoming more accessible.

As for new recycling efforts? Bradford has some ideas.

“If beer distributors offered rebates for recycling, that would be a good financial incentive,” Bradford said.

Bradford explained that, while on campus, it’s easy enough to recycle since there are signs on different bins for different materials. But he lives off campus and deals with the difficulty of recycling without the same accessibility.

But it doesn’t have to be difficult. Bush explained that, by city ordinance, landlords are required to provide their residents with blue recycling bins. For those who want to avoid landlord tiffs, Giant Eagle sells blue bags to put recycled materials in for pickup.

RecycleMania aims to motivate the smaller parts of the whole in college terms. Its website says, “By framing recycling in competitive terms, RecycleMania seeks to tap school spirit as a motivator to reach students who may not otherwise respond to environmental messages.”

Whatever the motivator might be, the ramifications of ignoring the environment are already becoming evident, if subtly.

“The negative effects of not recycling are not apparent, except that there’s no snow on the ground, and it’s warm every other day,” said Bradford. “Plus, I’m concerned about the polar bears. I don’t want the polar bears to become solar bears.”