This fall, Notre Dame’s Office of Sustainability launched a pilot recycling program in residence halls which will inform how to structure a wider scale program for campus.
As part of the new plan, the University will become an active participant in recycling, able to trace and measure where recyclables go when they leave campus and that they are, in fact, recycled.
Notre Dame will partner directly with a local materials recovery facility (MRF) — a broker of recyclables. MRFs collect and sort recyclables and find companies that will purchase the materials to be used for their products or packaging.
“Recycling only works if there’s someone who is willing to buy that recyclable material and turn it into something else. If that doesn’t happen, then recycling doesn’t happen,” said Carol Mullaney, senior director of sustainability.
The Coca-Cola Co. is a company that purchases materials from MRFs, and it's another business with which the University works.
“We are partnering with Coca-Cola to build a closed loop circular economy on campus and at our stadiums,” Mullaney said. “All bottles, caps and cans delivered from Coca-Cola and sold on campus are 100 percent recyclable, and we are putting plans in place that will establish a process in which the equivalent weight of these products sold at Notre Dame events will have a direct path to be recycled into new bottles, caps and cans to support our campus.”
The new recycling program aligns with the University’s Catholic mission to care for the common good and to be good stewards of the environment.
“We are the generators of this refuse. We should be part of the solution to that problem instead of shipping it overseas or to the coasts,” said Allison Mihalich, senior program director in the Office of Sustainability.
The MRF will work closely with the Office of Sustainability to monitor market changes as well as program successes and shortcomings. In turn, the office will share metrics with campus and work, building by building, to improve this system over time. Students interested in the sustainability project data could also have access to data.
There are three significant differences to previous recycling programs:
No plastic bags
- Plastic bags had been used to contain recyclables, but the bags trap moisture which can contaminate recyclables. Plus, plastic bags get tangled in the machinery when recyclables are processed.
Centralized model of recycling collection
- There are no longer large recycling dumpsters outside University buildings.
- Each residence hall building has large wheeled recycling totes, much like you may have at home.
- Building Services will bring the toters to a central location in a hall, where the Recycling Team will transport them to the Mason Services Building to be unpacked and sorted. This process will allow the University to see the types of items being recycled and flag concerns.
- A truck from the MRF will pick up the recyclables directly from Mason.
Back to basics recycling
- The program will only accept aluminum beverage cans, plastic bottles, paper and cardboard. (The program accepts only plastics 1 and 2.)
- No glass will be accepted.
The Office of Sustainability had planned to launch the pilot recycling program earlier this year in Grace Hall, where dozens of University departments and offices are located. But in March the pandemic essentially closed campus, leading many staff members to work remotely. Even now, Grace Hall is very quiet as most employees continue to work from home. With no recyclables to collect from Grace, the office turned its attention to the residence halls as students were returning to campus in August.
The processes in place at the residence halls are expected to be expanded to other buildings on campus, perhaps as early as 2021.
“Doing all of campus all at once would be a real challenge because there are so many different types of buildings and different recycling needs. We chose to use a phased approach,” Mullaney said.
The phases will also ensure that the roll out is safe and manageable for Building Services and other operational staff who are concentrating their efforts on health and safety protocols associated with the University’s COVID-19 response.
During the pilot phase, single-stream recycling is temporarily paused in all non-residential buildings. The Recycling Team still collects cardboard, so long as it is loose and broken down, and the AiM work order system may be used to request pick-ups of other qualifying waste. Some specific recycling projects, including the recycling of construction debris and other specialty waste, will continue.
“Remember that recycling is just one tool in a waste-reduction toolkit. The best option is to reduce your use of any disposable item, whether it can be recycled or not,” said Caitlin Jacobs, associate program manager in the Office of Sustainability.
The office, along with the Sustainability Strategy Small Working Groups, will continue to develop and execute the University’s long-term strategy and take steps to realize the vision of zero waste for campus.