By Alex Bacon/The AS Review
Employees at the AS Recycle Center sort paper while standing inside giant metal bins as cardboard cutouts of Chewbacca and Han Solo look down at them from the wall. The “Star Wars” duo is one of the many discoveries the Recycle Center employees, who are almost all students, have salvaged from the recycle bins they collect.
“The Recycle Center provides opportunities for students, faculty and staff to effectively recycle on campus and seeks to educate the campus community on how to recycle properly and effectively,” Rachel King, the Recycle Center educator, said.
The Recycle Center is almost completely student-run. There are usually 10 laborers and two managers who work part-time and one full-time coordinator.
“Everything that gets put in a barrel, we go through,” King said.
Aluminum, glass, plastic, cardboard: laborers sort almost 4,000 pounds of recyclables a day by hand.
Six hundred barrels are located on campus, including at least one barrel on every floor in every academic building, King said. When students can’t find a barrel, King suggests looking a little harder and remembering where the barrels are for future reference. Each one gets checked at least once a week, King said. There are about two mixed paper barrels for each aluminum, glass and plastic barrel.
“We really do appreciate everything that gets put in the right place,” King said.
During sorting, laborers separate the garbage from the recyclable material.
“The garbage is all plastic bags and coffee cups,” King said. “Things that people think are recyclable but aren’t.”
According to Staff Manager Rachel Allison, coffee cups can be composted but not recycled because they’re lined with wax on the inside. However, the plastic lid is recyclable, she said. Plastic bags aren’t recyclable through the Recycle Center but can be taken back to grocery stores such as Haggen. Most grocery stores have a receptacle for bags, which then get turned into, among other things, park benches and deck siding, Allison said.
Some other things the Recycle Center often sees that are not recyclable include foam-cored poster boards, cotton swabs, and the plastic covers and plastic spirals in spiral notebooks. The inner paper and metal spirals can be recycled but plastic coated paper can’t. King said getting notebooks with the spirals still attached is a pain, because they have to remove the spirals by hand, which is very time consuming.
Once sorted, the recyclables are either bought by an outside company or sold to an outside company. Whether the Recycle Center has to pay for materials to be removed or is able to sell the material depends on the market at the time. In the current market, aluminum is pretty easy to sell, King said, but for cardboard and paper they usually have to pay to have it taken away.
Funding for the Recycle Center comes from fees the dining halls, residence halls and maintenance pay for the service. The Recycle Center charges $160,000 a year, whereas Sanitary Service Company, the company Bellingham uses, would charge over $500,000 a year, Recycle Center Coordinator Richard Neyer said.
To make recycling a little easier on people, the Recycle Center is testing a new recycle system with small recycling bins in classrooms and lecture halls. King said there is a lot of recyclable material that is thrown in classroom trash cans because there isn’t a recycling bin in the classroom. She said it’s going to take some cooperation from maintenance but she thinks it’s going to go well.
Used battery receptacles are another new program being introduced by the Recycle Center.
“We want the campus community to know we’re here for them when it comes to batteries,” King said.
Currently five out of 11 residence halls have used battery receptacles, King said. The Recycle Center is planning to put used battery containers in the remaining six residence halls and a giant battery receptacle in the AS Bookstore for staff, faculty and students living off campus.
Another goal of the Recycle Center is to create a sustainable campus by providing opportunities to reuse things, Allison said. The recovery drive the Recycle Center holds in the dorms at the end of the year is a way for students to get rid of things they don’t want anymore and promote sustainability on campus. These items are then donated to charity.
The Recycle Center has the same standards for recycling that the Sanitary Service Company has for recyclable material, according to Operations Manager Megan Link. One guideline the Sanitary Service Company has is that aluminum cans and plastic bottles should be clean. Plastic bottle lids are recyclable but should be removed from the bottle. Pizza boxes are recyclable but paper plates and napkins are not.
For guidelines on what is recyclable and what is not, check out the Recycle Center’s Web site at recycle.as.wwu.edu. For Sanitary Service Company standards and guidelines, visit www.ssc-inc.com.