Cameron Berthiaume, Contributor; Erik Kjer, News Editor; Kayde Moore, Head Copy Editor; Dylan Young, Staff WriterOriginally published in Issue 5, Volume 33 of The University Register on November 6, 2020
The University of Minnesota Morris prides itself on being an environmentally conscious and sustainable campus and maintains a robust recycling program. Paper, plastic, glass, cardboard, ink cartridges, furniture, books, batteries, and more are collected by waste management in an attempt to cut down on excess waste, but how does this process work and to what degree is recycling an effective method of reducing negative environmental impacts? We spoke to people about recycling both on-campus and around the world.
“There isn’t a lot of products that we don’t at least attempt to recycle,” said Vance Gullickson.
What happens to it all? The recycled items get picked up by a big red truck, and hauled to the recycling station by the North parking lot. There, all of the items are taken out, separated, weighed, and calculated. After that the items are sent to their final destination. Some items, like ink cartridges and cardboard, benefit the community financially. UMM gets paid for all of the cardboard and paper. The cartridges are sent to a place that salvages the remaining ink, and the proceeds go to our local school for investing in recycling programs. Other items are sent to recycling facilities such as Engebretson & Sons Disposal Service, or hauled out in trucks.
“Paper condenses down so we get one or two semi-loads of the paper a year,” Gullickson said. But, he added, they collect a lot more cardboard with “three if not four semi-loads of cardboard.”
What is the impact? Ed Brands, an Environmental Studies professor here at Morris, spoke to the Register about recycling in general.
Though “there is a chance that the [recycled] materials will re-enter the production cycle”, he said, “a large proportion of materials that are sent to recycling bins or programs do not really end up re-entering production cycles and instead are sent to landfills or incinerators... 90% or more of all plastic produced has not been recycled”. “Whatever gains may be made by recycling have been absorbed by insatiable growth in consumption of (especially disposable) consumer goods,” he explained. “Recycling as an approach to dealing with solid waste products is becoming much more difficult with the increasingly mixed nature of our waste.”
That being said, “Recycling does make us think at least a little bit about reducing our environmental impacts,” Brands noted. Also, “Recycling does really work well in the context of some types of products--e.g. corrugated cardboard, aluminum, and ferrous metals (e.g. steel). It works best when done as part of an industrial cycle (i.e. within the factory); it is less effective at the household level.”
“In the case of plastic, recycling has for several decades been pushed by oil and petrochemical industries in order to confuse the public,” Brands added. “The main purpose of recycling has been to alleviate pressure to reduce the production and consumption of single-use products... Recycling may make us feel better, but as currently practiced in the United States, it does very little to reduce environmental impacts... We may view it as the only alternative to placing something in the garbage can. But solving our solid waste problems has to come way before--as individuals when we purchase something (or not), or more importantly as a society when we encourage the oil and plastics industries with tax breaks, glorify conspicuous consumption (e.g. of electronics, clothes, automobiles), fail to encourage development of products and goods that are actually durable, or fail to implement rules about producer responsibility for products at the end of their lives (i.e. ‘waste’).”
Image on top courtesy of waste360.com