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Office of Sustainability announces new recycling policies

| Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Bowling balls. Christmas lights. Headphones.

These are just a few examples of items that occasionally pass through local recycling, even though they are not recyclable, members of the Office of Sustainability said.

And with new recycling requirements rolling out, the Office of Sustainability is aiming to educate students about what can and cannot be recycled.

Whereas previous rules allowed for 10 percent contamination of recycled materials, the University’s recycling procedures now require that recycling be no more than 0.5 percent contaminated. This means all food and liquid must be removed from items, and greasy or dirty items cannot be recycled.

Sustainability senior program director Allison Mihalich said the University used to encourage students to recycle in cases where they weren’t sure whether an item could be recycled. Now, she said, the Office of Sustainability is emphasizing the motto “When in doubt, throw it out.”

“Our tagline is really ‘Recycle clean. Recycle right,’” she said. “So it’s cleaning if you have access to a sink. Rinse before [recycling] and definitely dump before recycling.”

In addition to new contamination regulations, sticky notes can no longer be recycled. However, many other items remain recyclable, Caitlin Hodges, an associate program manager in the Office of Sustainability, said.

Plastics labeled with the numbers one through six can be recycled, as well as clean glass, cardboard, paper, aluminum and newspapers.

“Recycling is a complicated process and there are people involved at different stages of it to try and make it something clean and recoverable — but there’s no substitute for knowing how to put the right things in the bin,” Hodges said.

However, other items such as plastic bags, cutlery and straws cannot be recycled — even though they often end up in recycling bins, Hodges said.

“They cause a big challenge, especially bags,” she said. “With the volume of recycling that we generate, just the way that has to be processed is a huge challenge if bags wind up in the load.”

The new policies are the result of a changing global market for recycled materials, Mihlich said. According to the New York Times, China previously accepted approximately half of the world’s recycled papers and plastics, before changing its policies at the beginning of this year.

“Essentially, they discontinued accepting 24 types of items,” Mihlich said. “So we’re not able to send it overseas. Much of our recycled content in the United States and countries like the United States was going overseas. So when that changed it made the waste management, the recycling facilities tighten their belts.”

In response to these changes, Notre Dame’s trash and recycling vendor, Waste Management, rolled out changes to the materials it would accept from the University, Hodges said.

“Some of those changes are going to be rolling out — you see them already in certain municipal programs. … Because we generate so much waste in a small area, we’re the first ones that are seeing the changes in this region,” she said.

Both Hodges and Mihlich said they were optimistic about the changes, despite some initial challenges.

“I have heard some people say in response to this, they’ve asked me if it still matters that we recycle and I would say absolutely, it still matters,” Hodges said. “This is more of an opportunity to be engaged in the reality of what generating waste is, and what that looks like from the time you buy it to the time it leaves you and goes somewhere to potentially be turned into something else.”

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About Natalie Weber

Natalie is a junior majoring in English with minors in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy and Computing & Digital Technologies. She serves as News Editor at The Observer and is a native of Western Colorado.

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