A new recycling campaign seeks to bring awareness about on- and off-campus recycling.
The campaign, organized by the Society of Environmental and Ecological Engineers, seeks to address common misconceptions people have about recycling. During Green Week last week at a campus-wide event centered around sustainability, the SEEE launched the initiative by tabling and surveying students.
Anna Bradley, a junior in the College of Engineering and member of SEEE, talked about how what you can recycle depends on your location.
“Just because it has a recycling symbol, doesn’t mean it can actually be recycled wherever you are,” Bradley said.
Purdue sends its recycling to Muncie, Indiana, where it is hand-sorted. Because the waste management site does not rely on a machine, Purdue can recycle all types of plastics.
The different types of plastic are denoted by a triangular symbol on the plastic with a number in it, ranging from 1 to 7. The National Waste and Recycling website states the symbols are often mistaken to denote if the plastic can be recyclable, but they are actually resin identification codes.
All plastics can be converted to new material, but not all cities have the infrastructure to deal with all plastics. West Lafayette can only take specific types of plastics.
“Off-campus, you can only recycle plastics one and two, so that’s basically just plastic jugs and bottles,” Bradley said. “So like your Starbucks coffee cups — I can’t recycle that off campus because it’s plastic six.”
The campaign seeks to help students to adopt a mentality of “when in doubt, throw it out.”
“I think recycling is ingrained, but people aren’t very intentional about it. People just kind of guess or throw whatever they think into the recycling,” Bradley said. “This is an issue because people have this mentality of ‘If I don’t know, I should recycle it, and we’ll figure it out later.’”
This mentality leads to contamination in the recycling process, Bradley said. According to the NWRA, 25% of recycling is too contaminated and must be sent to the landfill, up from 7% a decade ago. Those numbers may be worse, said Lindsey Payne, the chair of the Go Greener Commission.
“If you look at all of those recycling bins that are along State Street as part of the new development, nine times out of 10 those get dumped straight into the trash because they’re so contaminated,” Payne said.
According to a city ordinance, recycling is not mandated for older apartments with four or more units. Attempts have been made in the past to change the ordinance, as noted on the Engineers for a Sustainable World student organization page.
Payne said there are two approaches to getting recycling at off-campus apartments.
“What would have to happen would be a change in ordinance in the city,” Payne said. “Or you could exert social pressure on the landlords via the tenants to add recycling.”
For those who live off campus, there are five on-campus recycling drop-off locations at Purdue: the telecommunications building at 2nd and University streets, the parking lot at 4th and Russell streets, the parking lot across from the Armory, the intersection of David Ross Road and Tower Drive and the water tower parking lot.
In the context of waste management, Payne said recycling is only part of the solution.
“Recycling is a Band-Aid to the problem,” she said. “The real problem is consumption. If we were to do the reduce of the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle,’ then recycling wouldn’t be quite as big of a need.”
Bradley encouraged everyone to keep an open mind to new information about recycling.
“In the beginning of (the campaign), I thought I knew a decent amount about recycling,” Bradley said. “But even just going through this process, you learn so much.”