Thursday, February 09, 2006

Recycling On and Around the UIUC Campus

Listen to the commentary
Real Audio : MP3 download

This story begins with plastic soda bottles.

When Debbie Oberg came to work as a secretary for the Environmental Council last December, she found there wasn’t anyplace on our floor to recycle them. Rather than schlep the bottles down to the container two floors below, or put them into the regular trashcan and just hope they didn’t end up in a landfill, Debbie got on the phone to the recycling center at the U of I. Within a week the mailroom of the Environmental Council had its very own container to collect plastic bottles and cans for recycling.

Getting the new container was easy because the UIUC campus is home to an exceptionally well-run recycling program, which is part of the larger effort to reduce waste on campus. The program was begun in the late 1980s in response to a petition by the group Students for Environmental Concerns, and it’s coordinated by Tim Hoss, who has been at the helm from the beginning.

Following the trail of the bottles and cans now collected at the Environmental Council, I checked in with Tim recently about the state of recycling on campus.

We met at the Material Recover Facility west of the Assembly Hall Parking lot. All waste generated on campus passes through this facility, which exists to make sure materials that don’t belong in a landfill don’t wind up there.

Some recyclable materials, such as our plastic bottles and cans, need only minimal sorting before they are ready to be compacted, baled, and shipped out to reprocessors. Other materials, recyclables that are mixed in with regular trash, have to be picked out by hand as waste moves through the facility on a conveyor line.

Now, if you work on campus, you may wonder why you should bother to keep recyclable material separate from the trash, since the trash gets sorted anyway.

Here’s why. When you separate recyclables yourself, you ensure that they don’t end up in the landfill, and you save the effort and expense of pulling those materials out.

Waste generated at the U of I for the year 2004, excluding material from demolition and construction, was about ten thousand tons. About half of that--five thousand tons--was recycled. That’s five thousand tons of material that’s not taking up space in a landfill; five thousand tons of material made available for the manufacture of new products; five thousand tons of material that the university was able to sell, instead paying to have it buried.

These are the kind of facts that make recycling coordinator Tim Hoss enthusiastic about his work, and assure individuals like Debbie Oberg that their efforts to make a difference are worthwhile.

You may have noticed that I haven’t given any specific answers to the questions that inevitably arise when the subject of recycling comes up—questions like whether your yogurt container should go in the trash or the recycling bin. Radio just isn’t a good medium for that discussion. But if you can get to the Environmental Almanac website, you’ll find links to sites that will answer those questions.

Recycling on the UIUC Campus
Waste Transfer & Recycling page, with links to information about acceptable materials and a tour of the Material Transfer Facility

City of Champaign
Curbside and Drop-off with link to tips for disposing of other materials.

City of Urbana
Recycling Program with lots of information about recycling


The UIUC group Students for Environmental Concerns collects nonrechargeable household batteries (and others) at two locations: The University of Illinois YMCA and Allen Hall. Other drop off locations are planned for the Illini Union.

Rechargeable batteries, from phones, tools, etc. can be recycled through the stores that sell products containing them. See
Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation for details.

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