Sustainability

West Chester University

 

Recycle


"Theres no such place as away." - Debi Kimball

When you throw your trash away, where does it really go? It gets taken to landfills and builds up, becoming a threat to the environment. By recycling everything that we possibly can, we can decrease this landfill build up and therefore change our perspective of the word "away".


Important facts (retrieved from Recycling in America: Second Edition):

  • For every ton of paper (2,000 lbs) recycled, 17 trees are saved.
  • Every ton of paper that gets recycled saves enough energy to heat the average home for 6 months.
  • Manufacturing one ton of recycled paper uses 7,000 gallons less water than manufacturing one ton of paper from scratch.
  • Recycling one aluminum can saves the equivalent of enough energy to run a television set for 3 hours.
  • Every glass bottle that is recycled can save enough energy to light a 100-watt light bulb for four hours.
  • Americans throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour.
  • 40% of the plastic trash in the United States consists of plastic bags and plastic wrappings.
  • North Americans throw out enough steel and iron to continually supply all the nation's automakers.

What do the 3 R's really mean? In order for their message to work, we need to do all three. Reduce the amount of waste you produce, Reuse something instead of throwing it away, and Recycle everything that you can. Click here for some helpful tips on how you can use the three R's in your everyday life.

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Think about the grandest monuments that humans have created, some of which can be seen from space by the naked eye. The 5,500.3 mile long Great Wall of China. The architectural wonder of the pyramids in Egypt. How about Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, NY? Fresh Kills landfill covers 2200 acres and is 225 feet tall in some parts (taller than the statue of liberty) (7). The 50 years worth of household waste releases dangerous toxins into the environment via air and water. The landfill closed in 2001 and was used as a storage facility for the debris from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Currently, the New York government is working towards converting the landfill into a recreational nature area. If recycling had been more of a common practice, the waste in the landfill could have been greatly reduced.

Matthew Franchetti, of the University of Toledo reports, "In 2007, the United States generated 254 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW), up from 205 million tons in 1996." (6). This 18% increase in waste production is a clear indicator that recycling practices need to be greatly increased. Currently the United States recycles 32% of waste, which keeps more than 60 million tons of garbage from being dumped in landfills (11). But what about the other 68%? Americans dump more than 100 million tons of garbage each year, and by increasing our recycling habits, we can help to lower this number (11). It is important that we take action to save the environment and consequently our own lives.

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Keep reading to learn more about recycling at WCU and how you can help.

A brief history

Recycling has been around for hundreds of years, but the idea of recycling for the sake of the environment is a relatively new concept. Recycling is known as the process of "taking a used item and remaking in into a new, useful product instead of discarding it as a waste" (1). This system used to only be employed for human need. During World War II, recycling efforts were greatly increased as an inexpensive means to generate materials for weapons and other military devices. Once the war ended, however, so did these recycling efforts. With the end of the war also came the beginning of the 'disposable era'. Americans had to put their material wishes aside during wartime and so once it ended there was an immediate desire for new things. It wasn't until the late 60's that we began to realize that our resources are not unlimited It was because of this realization that an environmental movement began and the idea of recycling was now being seen as a way to save the earth. In 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency was formed in response to growing environmental concerns. Subordinately, the Office of Solid Waste was established to begin to study the problems related to waste management. Restrictions were placed on waste disposal and dumps were required to be closely monitored in hopes that it would promote an increase in recycling (1). It took around 20 years for recycling to become a common practice.

What is Recycling?

Recycling turns materials that would otherwise become waste into valuable resources. In addition, it generates a host of environmental, financial, and social benefits. Materials like glass, metal, plastics, and paper are collected, separated and sent to facilities that can process them into new materials or products.

Recycling is one of the best environmental success stories of the late 20th century. Recycling, including composting, diverted 82 million tons of material away from landfills and incinerators in 2006, up from 34 million tons in 1990. By 2006, about 8,660 curbside collection programs served roughly half of the American population. Curbside programs, along with drop-off and buy-back centers, resulted in a diversion of about 32% of the nation's solid waste in 2005.

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So what?

There are numerous reasons why recycling should become a habit for everyone. In addition to saving natural resources, it also reduced the amount of energy and pollution produced (9). It often takes much less energy to make products from recycled materials than from new and using less energy in turn causes less pollution. By throwing recyclable materials in the trash we are also taking up more space in landfills. If we do not reduce the amount of trash we produce, it will eventually take over the Earth and there will no longer be any livable land. Manufacturing new products not only leads to the production of excess waste but also to a great increase in pollutants, greenhouse gasses, from the procedures it takes to make objects from new materials. Some level of atmospheric gas is needed to maintain the temperature of the earth, but levels that are too high cause the heat to be trapped within the atmosphere instead of travelling back into space. Global warming is much more than just the warming of the earth. It also leads to rising sea levels, altered precipitation patterns, melting of polar ice caps and more. Some greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. Carbon Dioxide produced from combustion makes up about 81% of the earth's greenhouse gasses (8). Methane, emitted from landfills, makes up about 11% (8). Therefore, by increasing our recycling practices and reducing the amount of waste we produce, we can reduce the levels of both of these gasses in the atmosphere.

How do I know if it can be recycled?


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Before you throw your soda bottle in the trash, think about the consequences.

The numbers on the bottom of any plastic container identify what type of plastic it is. Plastics are made with a substance called resin that is mixed with other chemicals to create different types. Not all types of plastics can be recycled, and some may not be eligible for curbside pick-up.

For a list of plastics and other materials that can be recycled in West Chester visit the public works site.
plastics

At WCU

West Chester University employs a recycling method known as dual-stream recycling. Dual-stream recycling requires the separation of recyclable materials into commingled containers (glass, plastic, cans) and paper. A second method known as single stream recycling allows all recyclable materials to be deposited into one single bin without separation. Recycling at West Chester has become somewhat of an issue in the last ten years. In 2007, WCU recycled 121.42 lbs. of garbage down from 297.55 lbs. in 2001. As you can see, recycling on campus has taken a serious plunge. Recently, WCU has modified their recycling program to increase recycling habits among students. For more information about recycling practices at WCU, visit the recycling department's FAQ page.

West Chester is doing its part in more ways than recycling. All of the new dorms were built using geothermal technology, which uses energy from within the Earth, rather than burning fossil fuels and coal to heat and cool the buildings. The Earth absorbs the sun's energy and stores it as heat, allowing the ground to remain at a fairly constant temperature throughout the year. The heat from the ground travels through water-filled pipes to heat the building. To cool a building, rather than pumping cold air in, the hot air is pulled out, decreasing the need for air conditioners. Burning fossil fuels releases toxins, such as carbon dioxide, into the air whereas geothermal releases no gases at all (10). Not only is this better for the environment, but it saves money. If the WCU were to heat and cool all of it's buildings with geothermal technology, we would save over 1 million dollars each year. Plans are underway to transition other buildings on campus, such as the library, to geothermal technology. To learn more about what WCU is doing to help the planet, you can read the 2009 Green Report.

Get to it!

There is only so much the University can do about recycling without our support. The resources are there for us, we just need to take action and recycle! Whether you're at home, at school or at the mall always remember the consequences of your actions. Before you throw anything out ask yourself if it can be recycled, reused or donated. We have to remember all 3 R's - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle - and not just focus on the last one. Click here for an extensive list of items that are recyclable, and some creative ways that you can reuse common items. You may be surprised! Reducing waste involves more than just recycling and it starts with you.

Here are some helpful tips on how to become more environmentally friendly:

  • Buy reusable water bottle instead of buying a new disposable one every day. Even though recycling bottles produces less waste, a reusable bottle will produce no waste at all. This will also save you lots of money in the long run.
  • Buy reusable grocery bags, don't get a plastic bag for one or two items. If you buy something from Larry's Market, or any store, put it in your backpack or purse rather than into a plastic bag. Paper grocery bags cause just as much pollution as plastic.
  • Print your documents double sided and always recycle any wasted paper.
  • Increase recycling habits; almost everything can be recycled including batteries, plastic bags and even cell phones.
  • Turn off the lights when you leave the room.
  • Take the bus or walk to class/work instead of driving.
  • Open your windows on a nice day rather than using the air conditioning.
  • Don't litter! Pick up any trash that you see on the ground.
  • Turn your computer off at night.
  • Recycle all of your cardboard food containers: cereal boxes, poptart boxes, etc.
  • Many grocery stores have receptacles in which to recycle plastic bags.
  • Most buildings on campus have a recycling bin right next to the trash can. If it doesn't, hold onto your bottle until you find a recycling bin. Every bottle, can, or piece of paper makes a difference.
  • Do NOT put garbage in recycling bins. If the bin is filled 50% with garbage, it will be taken to a landfill rather than being recycled.
  • When eating in Lawrence, don't take more food than you can eat. Leftovers only take up space in landfills.
  • Go here for some tips on how to live greener.

Remember! Nothing is unlimited! Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!


[1] Recycling in America by Debi Kimball
[2] Recycling in America: Second Edition by Debra L. Strong
[3] Climate Diet by Jonathan Harrington
[4] Economics of Waste by Richard C. Porter
[5] Gone Tomorrow by Heather Rogers
[6] Journal of solid waste technology and management

The content on this page was supplied by Stacy Andrews.