Student Staff Leadership Boosts U of I Campus Recycling Record

ISTC's Zero Waste program is active on it's own campus

People at the University of Illinois who care about recycling think about changing human behavior. They wonder how to make the distinction between the landfill bin and the recycle bin so convenient and so obvious that even the most stressed and preoccupied student hits the right target.

At the Champaign-Urbana campus, zero-waste is a serious commitment. It is included as a component of the Illinois Climate Action Plan which obligates the U of I to achieving carbon neutral status by 2050.

To work toward this goal, Facilities and Services, the Student Sustainability Committee and ISTC funded an effort to improve recycling on the university's iconic meeting place -- the Quad. The partners collaborated to transition 40 isolated bins on the sprawling green space into 30 dual-bin stations. Each station also expanded the use of a standardized color scheme -- blue for recycling and black for landfill.

Analysis of the contents of the bins showed the pilot project resulted in very little contamination in the recycling bins. "The stations are working," said ISTC's Bart Bartels, who coordinated the campus recycling improvements. "Students have engaged in the process and with their help in limiting contamination, we can focus on recycling additional materials."

"Make it easy and convenient and just about everyone will 'pitch in' the right bins," said Bartels. The dual-bin project will be closely monitored as future expansion is considered. Greater awareness will be essential if the university is to raise its diversion rate from landfills from 50 percent to the goal of 75 percent over the next five years, he explained.

PHOTOS: ISTC's Zero Waste Program is innovating on the University of Illinois campus in partnership with student and administration leadership.

In another effort, University Housing recently tried a new covered waste station with a large opening for trash and a smaller round opening for bottles and cans which helps eliminate contamination by improper disposal of items. The Zero Waste Illinois staff at ISTC was asked to conduct the study and analyze the results of the use of the new stations located in Ikenberry Commons in comparison to the different style of dual-bin stations that were placed on the Quad.

ISTC's Zero Waste program is active on it's own campusTwo weeks of monitoring data showed promising results in the proper disposal of bottles and cans with this type of station, similar results for the Quad dual-bin stations, Bartels reported. The new covered station had a slightly lower contamination rate but the results were impressive in each. University Housing will consider these and other results of this study in their planning for future recycling efforts.

In another recently completed project, ISTC's Zero Waste Illinois program conducted an economic analysis of a 2014 effort to recycle nitrile gloves used for lab and food safety on the Champaign-Urbana campus. During the pilot program conducted at University Housing Dining Services, it was calculated that it costs six cents ($0.06) to recycle a box of 500 gloves. This continuing cost is mainly the amount it takes to mail the collected gloves to a company that makes durable outdoor furniture/bike racks out of the nitrile.

Start-up costs are $9.50 to purchase each of the small bins that capture used gloves onsite. That cost was financed by a grant from the Student Sustainability Committee which also supported the ISTC study. Twenty tons of gloves are used on campus each year. By the end of spring semester, two-and-a-half tons had been recycled. Click here for details on the glove recycling effort.

ISTC's Zero Waste Illinois program conducts waste audits and other services for Illinois business/organizations large and small.