Kent State implemented changes to its recycling policy for the Kent campus this February.

“The biggest change is in plastics, of what can be recycled and what cannot,” said Leah Graham, the outreach recycling coordinator. “Plastic bottles and jugs should be recycled, and all plastic other than bottles and jugs should go into the landfill.”

Anything with a neck or an opening that is smaller than the body falls under the category of bottles and jugs. The only additional recycling change is that paper cartons will now go into the landfills, Graham said. 

Ensuring students know how to recycle properly is extremely important, especially since more than 98 percent of people on campus identify themselves as recyclers, Graham said. 

“Our recycling rate, the percentage that’s recycled out of our trash recycling waste streams, is 36 percent,” Graham said. “This is higher than the national average, which is 25 percent, and higher than the state average, which is 29 percent. But, from our waste audits we’ve done on campus, we know that this rate can be higher.”

New signs that explain the changes will replace the old signs on the trash and recycling bins on campus in hopes of helping students understand what is recyclable and what isn’t, sustainability manager Melanie Knowles and Graham said.

These changes are happening because of a new recycling contract that started at the beginning of February with a company called Kimble. The recycling contract the university had with Portage County Recycling came to an end, Knowles said. 

is a waste removal and recycling services company that has been “committed to keeping Ohio clean and [their] customers satisfied while making the best choices for the environment” since 1948, according to its website. 

“Regardless of which vendor we went with for recycling, we would have seen these changes,” Knowles said. “The only reason we were still able to recycle the other things before is that it was still in the contract we had.”

Recycling changes have been implemented on college campuses all over the country due to China becoming more restrictive about which recyclables it would accept, Knowles said.

“Because of those changes [in China], the market for some of these plastics is just not what it used to be,” Knowles said. “The reason for the change to only plastic bottles and jugs is that there's a market for those materials.”

The root of this change mainly comes from the way in which people talk about the containers. Previously, the standard to determine the recyclability of a material was based off the numbers one through seven, which were placed inside the chasing arrows. While this terminology tells you what the material is made out of, it does not necessarily tell you whether it can be recycled. Now, a material’s recyclability is based on shape, Knowles and Graham said.

“One of the ways that I think about this is that in the past, people really made an effort to recycle everything they possibly could,” Knowles said. “It’s sort of a shift in mindset now to really only be putting in the recycling bin these specific items.”

When recycling, it is also important to ensure that any material discarded in the recycling bin is clean and dry to the best of your ability, to reduce the amount of contamination, Knowles said.

“One of the keys to the recycling industry at this point is to try to keep the contamination rate as low as possible,” Knowles said. “Contamination is anything that is in those recyclables that isn’t recyclable. Keeping [containers] clean and dry reduces contamination.”

Recycling is important, especially when it comes to the materials that can be recycled infinitely like glass, aluminum and steel. However, some products can only be recycled a certain amount of time. Paper can be recycled five to seven times, but water bottles can only be recycled once or twice. That’s why focusing on reducing and reusing our materials first is important, too, Graham said.

“We're just trying to provide the information so they are able to do it correctly and keep these recyclables out of the landfill because they can be used to be made into new products, that's the main thing,” Graham said. “When you recycle something, you’re reducing the amount of virgin material that is needed to make a product. You’re saving landfill space and you’re saving resources.”

Contact Becca Sagaris at bsagaris@kent.edu.

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