Going Green: Recycling in your community

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Apr 152013

Author: Allison LeCain

Colorado State University Flag

Colorado State University Flag (Photo credit: tylerkron)

Colorado State University is considered a ‘green’ university, but it wasn’t always that way. In the past 15 years, CSU’s recycling rate has gone from 26 percent to 57 percent, ranking in the top 5 percent of recycle-friendly universities in America for the past 10 years, according to RecycleMania.

We’ve adopted changes over the years that make recycling easier, such as single-stream recycling, trash audits and participating in RecycleMania. Now CSU recycles almost two million pounds each year, according to CSU’s green website.

What is RecycleMania?

RecycleMania is a nation-wide competition that promotes recycling and waste-reduction at universities. The event takes place over eight weeks each spring. Recycling and trash is measured on a per-capita basis each week. CSU took 16th place out of 630 universities last year.

During this time, there’s an on-campus competition between residence halls and university apartments to see which have the best recycling rate. Each RecycleMania starts off with a trash audit. A day’s worth of trash is collected from all residence halls and sorted. Last year’s audit revealed that 75 percent of what was thrown away was trash and 25 percent could have been recycled, according to Sheela Backen, CSU’s Integrated Solid Waste Program Manager.

How CSU went ‘green’

In the ’80s, CSU didn’t have a single-stream recycling system. Nearly all materials were trashed in a landfill. In 1990, CSU received a $26,000 grant from the Colorado Office of Energy Conservation that allowed them to start a new recycling program, called Recycle Colorado State. Since then, the number of dumpsters has been cut in half and the first automated recycling truck was purchased. CSU switched to single-stream recycling in 2007, making the recycling rate go up to 57 percent.

Backen has taken the lead role in changing the way faculty and students view sustainability on campus. She focuses on educating students so they know what to recycle and care enough to do so. One of the common misconceptions she says students have about recycling is pizza boxes. She said as long as you clean the pizza out of it, the boxes can be recycled, as can bottles and their caps.

Though the recycling rate is rising, Backen thinks the university can do even more for sustainability.

“One of the things I really want to work on is compost,” Backen said. “We’re already doing some compost, but we can expand into paper towels and stuff like that to take more stuff out of the landfills. Every year they’re supposed to add another commodity we can recycle in Larimer County – anything that they’ll add, we’ll add.”

How does recycling work?

According to Backen, the recycling starts out in bins around campus. The custodial staff empties those into larger bins outside, which are picked up by trucks. Trucks pick up recycling daily from Lory Student Center and two to three times a week for other buildings. Those trucks take the recyclables to the Larimer County Landfill, where they have an Intermediate Processing Center. There the material is bailed and shipped to Denver’s Waste Management plant. Then a machine uses electric eyes to sort the recyclables.

“They can tell a white piece of paper from a pink piece of paper – it’s really neat,” Backen said. “They use magnets for steel cans and blow air at the aluminum cans to pop them over into where they want them.”

At the end of the machine’s line, there are people pulling out materials that are not suited for recycling. Backen said the recycling process costs more because of the trash people throw in. She suggests taking the time to rinse recyclables of food material so they make it through the recycling inspection.

What can you recycle at CSU?

  • Clean #1 through #7 plastic bottles, tubes, containers
  • Glass bottles and jars
  • Aluminum and steel cans
  • Metal jar lids and bottle caps
  • Empty aerosol cans
  • Aluminum foil
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Office paper
  • Phone books
  • Corrugated cardboard
  • Brown paper grocery bags
  • Paperboard
  • Some electronics upon request

National recycling rate according to Fort Collins Government

Aluminum cans 51.2%
Glass Bottles 22.0%
Steel Cans 62.0%


Living out the legacy

By working hard to educate future students and faculty, the recycling rate will continue to grow and CSU will become a waste-free campus.

“If we’re composting, and giving the compost back to our grounds people, we’re completing that loop so everything that we create on campus is used on campus,” Backen said.

In knowing what to recycling, the CSU community can reach this goal in 20 years, Backen explained.

“People just need to concentrate on what they’re doing – they just need to get it into the right bin.”