Sort-free recycling yielding positive results

UI recyclables are trucked to the City Carton sorting facility in Cedar Rapids.

Single-stream recycling has to be sorted somewhere. UI recyclables are trucked to the City Carton sorting facility in Cedar Rapids. Photos by Tim Schoon.

What does the University of Iowa’s new sort-free recycling program mean to faculty and staff? Well, for one thing, cleaning one’s office becomes much easier: old newspapers, empty cardboard boxes, and well-rinsed plastic food containers all can land in the same bin.

But it also should appeal to your desire to “be green,” as it’s having a positive effect on university recycling efforts. The university collected 266,356 pounds of recyclable materials in September—a near-10 percent increase from September 2010.

“A successful recycling program is an important part of building a sustainable campus,” says Liz Christiansen, director of the UI Office of Sustainability. “The UI’s new sort-free program makes it easier than ever to participate.”

Sort-free recycling is being phased in across campus in efforts to meet the university’s 2020 Vision target of 60 percent waste diversion. Waste Management Inc. was awarded the recycling collection contract and is working alongside the UI and City Carton Recycling to phase in the sort-free recycling system. Waste Management collects the material from locations around campus and transports it to the City Carton Recycling sorting facility in Cedar Rapids. Recycling containers are being added or relabeled across campus as the program grows.

Piles of recycled material await sorting.

Piles of recycled material await sorting.

Newspaper, office paper, cardboard, lab plastics, nonredeemable drink containers, plastics, tin, aluminum, and most clean food containers can now be placed in the same collection bin instead of being sorted into individual containers. Items that should not be placed in sort-free stream recycling bins include glass, food, Styrofoam, and plastic bags.

UI Staff Council and the Office of Sustainability are supporting the effort by conducting “train-the-trainer” education sessions across campus. Dave Jackson, assistant to the associate vice president in Facilities Management, coordinates the new program. Jackson and interim recycling coordinator Bart Knox work with building coordinators and custodial supervisors to ensure the sort-free recycling process is safe and efficient. They, along with volunteers and staff, have conducted approximately 10 mini-waste audits each week to ensure the material that the UI is sending to City Carton Recycling is clean and free from contaminants.

“The concept of sort-free recycling has been popularly accepted, and the campus community is engaged in the UI recycling and waste diversion goals,” Jackson says.

That acceptance goes beyond the specific aspect of sort-free recycling, as green and recycling committees have popped up in the Colleges of Dentistry and Nursing and the Division of World Languages in Phillips Hall. Erin Hackathorn, administrative services coordinator in the Department of English, says plans are being made to remove trashcans in English-Philosophy Building to encourage students and others to recycle in centrally placed containers. Several departments in the Carver College of Medicine are collecting plastics used in labs; Jackson sees great potential for plastics to be recycled in more campus labs.

The process

UI employees should collect recyclable materials from their work area and place them in centralized collection containers on their floor or in their building. Custodians will no longer collect recycling from individual offices.

Sorting is done by a combination of automation and hand picking.

Sorting is done by a combination of automation and hand picking.

Here is what happens to the material:

  • Custodial staff collect the material from all centralized recycling containers in the building.
  • The recyclables are aggregated into wheeled containers or larger dockside containers. Some locations on campus also have recycling compactors.
  • Waste Management collects and hauls material to City Carton Recycling’s sorting facility in Cedar Rapids.
  • Recyclables are sorted and processed into market-ready commodities.
  • The commodities are sold locally and globally and used in manufacturing new products.

How can you help:

  • Take recyclable materials to a centralized collection container on each floor.
  • Break down cardboard boxes to save space in recycling bins; custodians will not break down cardboard boxes as it takes time away from other duties.
  • Know what can be recycled. Styrofoam, glass, plastic bags, and food are not acceptable at the City Carton Cedar Rapids sorting facility. But you can take some of these items to other locations in Iowa City. See more recycling opportunities at City Carton Recycling and the Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center.

See the UI Office of Sustainability website for a comprehensive description of the recycling program and a single-stream recycling “tool kit.”