How Recycling Works at Wittenberg
The Wittenberg Recycling Program follows a single-stream collection practice, which means that all of our recyclable material goes into one bin. That part of the process is pretty simple. But the whole program can get complicated. Unlike most residential recycling efforts, we have a number of people and organizations involved in the waste reclamation effort, and each of those contributors has his or her own role in the collection process. That being the case, we improve our chances of running an efficient program when we have a good understanding of the whole system—and so much the better if we can combine that understanding with an eye for potential problems and a willingness to communicate frequently with each other
To that end, here is a summary of the people involved at various stages in the smooth running of the recycling effort:
The Campus Community Role: We the Consumers
No question about it. Recycling hinges to a great extent on the conscientious and informed consumer who knows the protocols of the recycling program, protocols explained in the Recycling Guidelines page.
• Putting our waste in the correct bins.
• Communicating concerns and suggestions with the housekeeping staff and the Recycling Coordinator
• Encouraging good recycling practices among our friends and colleagues.
• Keeping recyclable material out of the trash bins. The Wittenberg community throws out far more recyclables than it reclaims.
• Avoiding contamination in the recycling bins by rinsing food containers, and by emptying bottles and cans.
The Staff Role: Our Housekeeping
The housekeeping people are the silent heroes in the process. They work through the evenings to see that trash and recycling bins are ready to take on the next day’s waste.
• Emptying the bins on a regular cycle. Because we throw out much more than we recycle—and because trash bins often harbor food waste which begins smelling fairly quickly—the housekeepers empty trash receptacles daily and take out the recycling once or twice week, depending on the needs of their building.
• Placing the the full (or partially full) bags outside the buildings in a designated pickup location.
• Lining the bins with clear plastic bags for recycling and opaque bags for trash. The different bags help our truck driver know how to handle the waste.
• Reporting problems in the recycling program to their supervisors.
• Avoiding bag mix ups. Occasionally the clear and opaque bags can get switched, though these problems have been minor. In many cases, it may only appear that a black bag is being used for recycling when actually that bag serves as a liner for bins to keep sugary, ant-enticing sodas from building up in the bottom of the bin.
• Handling heavy bags. We have a good number of large recycling bins on campus, which serve us well when it comes to ensuring that there’s always capacity for more discarded material around, but when those bins get filled with paper and glass, they can become difficult to manage for the housekeeping staff. Please lend a hand if you see someone struggling to remove a bag from a full bin.
The Physical Plant’s Role: Our Driver
Unlike some campuses, Wittenberg handles its own hauling. The University owns a trash compacting truck (affectionately known as the “white buffalo”) which has two compartments for recycling, both of which lie directly between the truck’s cab in the front and the compactor in the rear.
The driver’s responsibilities:
• Removing the bags of trash and recycling material from the designated locations.
• Determining when bags of recyclable materials have too much contamination to be included in the recycling stream. The company contracted to handle our waste, Waste Management, penalizes us financially for introducing too many undesirables into their stream.
• Unloading the trash and recycling compartments of the truck as they become filled. Every time our driver makes a trip to the waste collection site, he dumps a load of trash, but because making a deposit involves waiting in a long line of trucks, he may not leave the recycling behind. Unloading a less-than-full compartment is an inefficient use of his time.
The driver’s challenges:
• Picking up bags full of contamination, from soda pop to chewing tobacco.
• Needing to remove all waste from the outside of buildings. When it comes to attracting people to Wittenberg and making those already here feel at home, the appearance of our campus is a key factor. Consequently, those bags of trash and recycling lying in conspicuous locations can get priority over the less visible ones, and this need to remove bags also means that there occasionally can be some tough decision about which compartment on the truck gets used to haul away some material. Be assured that if you occasionally see a clear bag going into the compactor, that bag is a very small portion of the total recycling effort.
Waste Management’s Role: The MRF
All the waste produced in the Miami Valley area finds its way through one of two Material Reclamation Facilities (MRF or “Murf”). It turns out that Wittenberg University uses both of them: the campus itself is tapped into Waste Management’s MRF outside of Columbus while the rental properties send their refuse to Rumpke’s site in Dayton.
Our MRF’s responsibilities:
• Sorting, baling, and shipping the recyclables for reuse. The sorting process, which enables us to use a single stream method at our end, involves a series of conveyor belts, magnets, air streams, and human beings. (Rumpke provides a video of the whole process.)
• Transporting trash to a landfill. The unreclaimed refuse may also be incinerated, a process which comes with its environmental complications but because somewhere around 38% of the material in a landfill is paper, incineration is one way to significantly reduce the mass of material deposited in these sites.
Our MRF’s challenges:
• Dealing with contamination. Food waste is a problem, but the biggest headache comes from plastic bags which wind up in the stream with some frequency but which also can gum up the sorting machines.
• Finding good buyers for some of its reclaimed materials. Some materials are clear winners, namely aluminum and paper, because they save significant energy and resources, and consequently command a good price on the market. Some plastics and glass remain less desirable, and, at least for the time being, it’s a good idea for consumers to avoid these materials when an aluminum, paper, or reusable option is available.
Taking on the Financial Commitment
Though there are opportunities for some savings through the Recycling Program, the effort currently demands a significant financial commitment. The functioning of the program entails additional Physical Plant labor, additional bins around campus, additional signs, and additional education efforts, all of which take time, energy, and (frequently) money. Here are some aspects of the financial piece:
• Wittenberg University does not get any money for its recyclable material. In fact, our direct financial incentive to recycle is modest. Rather than “buying” recyclable material from its corporate clients, Waste Management actually charges them one rate for trash and a (modestly) lower rate for recycling. So there is little prospect of any financial return for our recycling efforts (which is why some local haulers in Springfield choose not to provide recycling services to their clients). Some organizations do, in fact, pay money for paper and aluminum, but the campus doesn’t produce enough of either to make separate collection of these materials a viable option.