Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Meeting the RePaper Challenge

UIC is taking part in a national effort by higher education institutions to raise campus paper recycling rates to 75% by the year 2015. 

On Earth Day 2011, campuses across North America were called to participate in the RePaperCampus Challenge.  This program is intended to increase sustainability on college campuses.    

At UIC, we are making strides to reduce our carbon footprint, and we’ve received growing recognition for our recycling efforts: 
-        We placed 9th nationally in the Gorilla Prize Division (total weight of recycling) in RecycleMania, a friendly competition between 600 colleges and universities;
-        The Illinois RecyclingAssociation awarded UIC as the 2010-2011 Grand Champion for Outstanding College and University Recycling Program.  UIC was acknowledged for demonstrating the greatest achievement in both source reduction and recycling among Illinois colleges and universities competing in RecycleMania.
Despite these accolades, there’s always room to improve.  We continue to learn about the environmental turmoil our planet is facing; this means we can’t be satisfied by simply improving, but must set higher goals and achieve them.  That’s why we’re participating in the RePaper Challenge.
Auditing our Trash
In October, staff from the Office of Sustainability, with help from the departments of Transportation and Building Services, along with student volunteers from the student groups EcoCampus and Roots of Justice, carried out waste audits of four buildings:  University Hall, Student Center East, Stukel Towers, and the College of Medicine.  The audit was a first step in establishing a baseline to figure out our current paper recycling rate (and it also helps us get a sense of how recycling is working).
Why these buildings?  Well, broadly, we chose buildings with different functions to get a sense of how things are working in the different building types, but more specifically…
University Hall because it’s typical of our existing recycling program: an office building in which the occupants are supplied with deskside recycling bins and are expected to regularly walk to recycling stations in the hallways and separate their paper, bottles and cans, and trash; building service workers then collect from those hallway bins, and place paper and bottles and cans in larger toters in the building; then the recycling drivers come for weekly pickups.  We expected that UH would have the highest recovery rate of the four buildings.
The College of Medicine includes the last few state-run (more on that later) buildings on campus that don’t have the full recycling program.  We are applying for a state funded grant to purchase additional equipment to bring the five buildings there up to the level that UH has achieved.  The College of Medicine also has labs and classroom space.
Stukel Towers, a residence hall example, was chosen because developing a full recycling program in the residence halls is another goal of ours this year.  The state-funded grant would provide residents with recycling equipment as well. 
Finally, Student Center East was chosen as an example of a student center on campus.
Along with residence halls, athletic facilities, and other revenue-generating facilities on campus (like the UIC Forum and the Pavilion), Student Center East (and West) is part of a slightly different management system at UIC called Auxiliary Services. The final major goal this year is to bring the recycling programs in Auxiliary Services buildings to a similar level with the other non-Auxiliary buildings on campus.  Auxiliary administration is purchasing new recycling equipment to capture the streams of paper, glass bottles, metal cans and plastic that are generated by the students, staff and visitors that traffic those buildings. Recently, the Office of Sustainability gave a “train-the-trainer” program for supervisors to bring their staff up to speed on recycling.
For the audit, we pulled 5 bags of trash from each of 4 buildings, and then we sorted it one building at a time.  We found percentage by weight of each type of paper, plastic, metal, aluminum, glass, and waste materials.  In the graph below, “Paper Fiber” refers to all types of recyclable paper on campus – basically office paper and cardboard.

We then compared the findings of the audit against the monthly recycling numbers.  It starts to paint an interesting picture about recycling in our various facilities on campus.

Results:  Where we are at now, and reaching our goal
When we totaled the four buildings, 27% of the trash was paper that we should have captured.
When we extrapolated the data from the waste audit to the overall campus waste stream, we found we have a recovery rate of 45%.
This means we have a good way to go to reach the RePaper Challenge goal of 75% recovery rate, but we are making that commitment, so we need everyone on campus – students, staff, faculty, and the administration – to join with us in order to reach it. 
So, what do you think – can we meet the RePaper Challenge?
To find out more about the Recycling Program at UIC, visit the Office of Sustainability website.

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