Recycling: It’s not easy being green

“Instead of seeing it as a piece of trash, see it as something valuable,” said Tony Hair, the waste management coordinator in the Campus Sustainability Office at Portland State. “[Recyclers] pick up that aluminum can and see that this aluminum can can become another aluminum can or a bicycle. It still has potential.”

While the desire to recycle is often well placed, regional recycling laws and over-enthusiasm can often lead to complications in the recycling process.

“A lot of people think everything is recyclable,” said Kristen Purdy, the coordinator of EcoReps, a student group at PSU dedicated to spreading the word about sustainability.
“You want to recycle. You’re programmed to want to do good, but when you’re not educated about it, it ends up being bad.”

When in doubt, throw it out
“We like to think that our resources are unlimited and the places we can put things we don’t want are unlimited, and that’s not true at all,” said Thea Kindschuh, the reuse coordinator for the sustainability office at PSU. “Just because you put it in a bin doesn’t mean the problem’s over. It’s really just the beginning of
a process.”

Thanks to the green mindset of the PSU campus, recycling rates have increased from 29.5 percent in 2008 to 34.9 percent in 2013. However, there is still much to improve.
In 2013, Community Envir-onmental Services, a research unit under the environmental studies department, conducted a campus-wide waste audit, Hair said. The audit found that 86.7 pounds, or about 13 percent, of landfill-bound waste was easily recyclable.

“[It was] the stuff that was really easily recycled, like plastic bottles, aluminum cans, paper—things that you can just put into a recycling container,” Hair said.

One of the most common problems in the recycling system is contamination of recycling bins.

“A lot of it is carelessness, and a lot of it is overly optimistic,” Kindschuh said.

Recycling tips
When unrecyclable materials are thrown into the recycling bin, often the recycling has to be hand sorted or simply taken to a landfill. The PSU Recycles! page offers a list of things often wrongly assumed to be recyclable. The Waste Reduction Task Force, a student-led initiative promoting responsible waste elimination at PSU, names several common sources
of contamination.

Coffee Cups
During a recent waste audit of the PSU library, the Waste Reduction Task Force separated out the coffee cups from approximately half a day’s trash and filled six, overflowing garbage bins with coffee cups. To reduce coffee cup waste, the task force recommends the use of a durable coffee cup or thermos.

Clamshell To-Go Containers
Unfortunately, the clamshell to-go containers, commonly found at the famous food carts near PSU, are not recyclable. One of the difficulties of recycling is the variation between cities. Even if plastic waste has a recycling symbol, sometimes it’s not recyclable.

“[The recycling symbol] is all about the type of plastic, but here it’s about the shape,” said Peter Daeges, waste reduction specialist at PSU.
If you’re thinking about getting food to go, try investing in reusable containers.

Pizza Boxes
Usually, pizza boxes have too much grease to be recycled in Portland. Instead, the task force suggests composting them.

Plastic Bags
Although plastic bags are banned throughout most of Portland, it’s important to be sure they don’t end up in recycling bins.

“Plastic bags will gum up the [recycling] machinery. It gets caught in the cogs and the machine could shut down,” Hair said.

Go Green
“Everyone always thinks you’re trying to save the environment, but it’s really about helping people,” Daeges said. “It’s our resources that we’re using. You’re helping you and all the generations after you.”

Students can take action in recycling by making small changes in their life, such as buying durables.

“Invest in durables, like durable mugs, durable food ware,” Purdy said. “You can even keep a container in your backpack for when you go out to eat instead of having to take one of those take-home boxes.” A lot of the time, you can just prevent some of that stuff from being recycled by having stuff that’s reusable in the first place.”

Purdy also suggests buying products that have post-consumer or post-manufacture labels, meaning the materials used were made by recyclables.

With Earth Day upon us, there are multiple ways to get involved with recycling in the community as well. The EcoReps are hosting several waste audits in the coming weeks, including one at the Branford Price Millar Library today from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Student organizations, such as the Waste Reduction Task Force, offer many other opportunities for students to get involved
in recycling.