Half of USC’s Trash Recycled, Figures Show
The amount of waste kept out of landfills has steadily increased in recent years, according to Facility Management Services.
The other half did not get lost on the road, but instead was recycled, a fact that some might find surprising.
“Many people aren’t aware of how much recycling USC is actually engaged in,” said John Welsh, associate vice president of USC Facilities Management Services. “It’s much more than meets the eye.”
USC’s diversion rate the amount of waste kept out of landfills has steadily improved.
In 2006, 45.9 percent of trash was diverted. In 2007, that figure climbed to 48.5 percent, and this year, between January and September, the rate was 51 percent. These figures apply to the University Park and Health Sciences campuses.
While the nearly 100 green recycling dumpsters on campus account for about 17 percent of the total amount recycled, most efforts take place behind the scenes.
In the recycling yard on the University Park campus, separate 40-yard containers are filled with metal (such as discarded cabinets), wood (palettes and crates) and green waste (cut grass and tree clippings).
In addition, trailers with cardboard from food and book packaging are brought in and compacted every day.
Together, these materials form another 15 percent of USC’s recycling, according to figures from the first nine months of this year.
The largest behind-the-scenes program accounting for more than half of USC’s recycling takes place at a Materials Recycling Facility (an MRF, or “merf” as those in the business call it).
Since beginning its contract with USC in January, Athens Services has handled USC’s rubbish, hauling an average of 20 tons per day to its massive facility in the City of Industry.
Between January and September, that facility pulled out nearly 2,000 tons of recyclable material from USC’s trash.
While between 20 and 30 percent of Materials Recycling Facility trash gets pulled for recycling, it isn’t perfect. The last time they measured, Athens officials found that 20 percent of material that might have been recycled goes to the landfill.
One reason is that food and liquid contaminate recyclables, rendering it useless. For example, if cardboard is more than 11 percent wet, it turns moldy en route to factories in China, where it would be rejected.
Therefore, reducing the amount of contamination that ends up in the main rubbish stream is key to increasing recycling rates.
USC’s new food waste recycling program in place at Café 84, the International Residential College at Parkside and The Lot might be one way to do this, since it isolates contaminating waste.
Between January and September, 62 tons of food waste such as pizza crusts and banana peels were recycled and kept out of the waste stream.
The food waste program is expanding to include the Galen Center café and the Galen Center arena at the end of the month, with more sites to come on board soon.
Despite such measures, recyclables put into the trash still could become contaminated or simply overlooked. As a result, keeping recyclables out of the main rubbish stream is important.
It also makes financial sense: USC gets a rebate from Athens for the amount of recyclables it separates from the main trash. In addition, more recyclables means less trash, which the university pays for by the ton.
So while the Materials Recycling Facility salvages a large amount of recyclables, better sorting by the Trojan Family could easily push USC’s diversion rate above 60 percent, according to Athens officials.
In addition, if recyclables were pre-sorted into plastics, glass and aluminum, the university could receive an even bigger rebate.
(Currently, the recyclables collected on USC’s campuses are “co-mingled,” meaning that the rebate is based on a lump sum price rather than on the market rate for a particular material.)
Placing more recycling cans next to trash cans and reintroducing separate cans for different materials can be challenging.
There are space and aesthetic considerations, the issue of where and how to store sorted recyclables securely and how to increase student involvement.
“Sustainability is a complex, long-term objective,” said Charles Lane, USC associate senior vice president. “We are working across campus to build upon our existing efforts so that we can increase our efficiency and reduce our environmental footprint.”
Waste management experts predict that the markets and technologies for recycling will grow in the coming decades.
“We expect there to be all kinds of new markets and technologies such as converting residue into fuel and fully automating the sorting process,” said Jessie Asencio, director of Materials Recycling Facility operations at Athens.
“Given how much it has grown in the last decade, one can only imagine what it’s going to be like 10 years from now,” he added.
Did You Know?
USC’s custodians use a tandem two-bin system to collect trash from campus offices: One side is for recyclables from blue bins, the other for trash from black ones.
Blue bins accept more than mixed office paper. Any recyclable material provided it’s clean can be placed in them.
USC Facilities Management Services ensures that all campus workstations have blue bins. If you do not, call (213) 740-6833.
Be on the lookout for cardboard recycle boxes in every USC classroom and lobby starting after the winter break. Like the blue bins, they will accept any recyclable.
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