RIT/NTID Students Help Campus Go Green
- What can be recycled at RIT:
- Plastic: #1 through #7, hard plastic containers, including milk jugs, yogurt cups and beverage bottles (remove caps).
- Paper: Newspaper, magazines, paper books, mail, milk cartons, cardboard.
- Metal: Empty aerosol cans, tin containers, aluminum cans, steel containers.
- Glass: All colored glass, glass bottles (no broken glass).
- Items not accepted for recycling at RIT:
- Styrofoam containers and packaging.
- Plastic bags.
- Food waste.
- Used tissues or paper towels.
RIT/NTID students in Dominique Lepoutre’s Capstone: Society and Technology class recently donned plastic gloves, aprons and safety glasses as the contents of several large plastic bags of recyclables were unceremoniously dumped on the floor.
The students, joined by NTID President Gerry Buckley, grabbed brooms and began sorting the contents. Papers went in one pile, bottles and cans in another, and miscellaneous trash – ranging from apple cores to half-eaten burritos – were pushed in another area.
The audit was conducted in RIT’s Facilities Management Services building to determine just how much of the so-called “recyclables” should actually be going to the landfill. The bags were selected from hallways, classrooms and offices in the college’s Lyndon Baines Johnson Hall and Dining Commons.
Eventually the piles were bagged and weighed in an effort to gauge building occupants’ level of understanding of recycling. The audit was a follow-up to an earlier audit where bags of trash were inspected to determine how much of it could have been recycled. In that audit, more than half of the trash content could have been recycled.
“We’re wasting a significant amount of money,” says Josh Goldowitz, a professor of environmental sustainability in RIT’s College of Applied Science Technology. “If half of our trash could be recycled, we’d save money that could be used someplace else.”
RIT spent hundreds of thousands of dollars last year having approximately 2,100 tons of trash removed. Not only is RIT not charged for recyclables, the institute often receives a rebate for the materials it recycles, depending on their market value. The more items that can be recycled not only helps reduce costs, it saves landfill space and conserves natural resources.
Jesse Naumann, of Tulsa, Okla., is majoring in multidisciplinary studies. He says he tries to be conscious of disposing his trash and recyclables responsibly, but often isn’t sure what should go where.
In 2011, RIT was one of 38 colleges in New York participating in Recycle Mania and was ranked best in the state for its recycling efforts. RIT ranked fifth in the nation in recycling paper.
“Recycle Mania is a great time to get students educated and involved in recycling on campus,” says Dmitry Liapitch, an RIT graduate student in Sustainable Engineering, and RIT’s recycling administrator.
RIT has adopted “single stream recycling,” which means most items that are recyclable can be mixed with other recyclables. That includes all hard plastics #1 through #7, plastic containers and bottles, paper, milk cartons, aluminum cans and glass.
The audit showed that while many people didn’t know which materials – such as wax-coated paper cups – were recyclable, overall the results were positive, with only 8 percent of the contents of the audited materials needing to be thrown away as trash instead of in the recycling bin.
“It shows that people who are recycling have a pretty good idea what they should be doing,” Goldowitz says.
He says paper cups are usually recyclable if they are intended for cold beverages. Cups intended for hot beverages should be thrown out as trash because the wax coating is heavier.
Food, soiled paper products, plastic wrap and items with mixed components such as microwave trays should be thrown in the trash.
Enid Cardinal, RIT’s senior sustainability advisor, says only 5 percent of contamination by weight is allowed for recyclables. Contamination levels higher than that may result in the materials being sent to the landfill rather than recycled.
“Overall on campus, we have approximately a 40 percent diversion rate,” Cardinal says. “That means that of all the materials leaving campus, approximately 40 percent of them are recycled. But the waste audit results show that our diversion rates could be significantly higher if more people recycled their materials rather than throwing recyclables in the trash.”
Goldowitz says improvements can be made and effective recycling should be easy and come as second-nature. “People aren’t going to be spending a lot of time thinking about it. You have to make it easy.”
Chris Knigga, director of Facilities Services & Sustainability for NTID, says he plans to have more recycling containers available in public areas.
“I am very proud of the NTID community’s response to the call from RIT to become a leader in sustainability on all levels,” Buckley says. “I am pleased that our students, faculty and staff have taken an active role in examining and improving our recycling efforts within the college and appreciate the commitment of all who are involved. NTID has made significant progress maintaining our operations in a manner consistent with the overall university’s commitment to sustainability. And our recycling efforts demonstrate that our college is a leader in this area.”