With a 76 percent recycling rate, Pacific Lutheran University is a school that is familiar with sustainability. However, it can be confusing to know what can and cannot be recycled, so sustainability technicians, the student workers who sort the recycling, contribute a lot to PLU’s high rate. To make these student workers’ jobs run a little more smoothly, you can follow these 10 tips.
1. Pour your leftover liquids elsewhere
Open drinks tossed into the recycling are not immune to the forces of gravity. Junior Riley Swanson, a sustainability technician, said the spilled drinks make the job much harder, because “everything gets all wet and sticky, and then we [sustainability technicians] have to clean the bags after each use.”
Instead, pour out drinks in a water fountain or bathroom, or just screw the cap on the bottle.
2. Keep your food waste wrapped up
If you only ate half the sandwich you bought, don’t just toss it in the trash. Any food waste should be wrapped in its packaging and recycled so student workers can compost it. Junior Zack Wangler, another sustainability technician, said this is the best method for disposing of food when a compost bucket is not nearby.
3. Lids and recycling are the new normal
Whether it’s an empty soda bottle or a jug of milk, both have lids that should usually be put in the garbage. However, senior Nathan Rhoades, a sustainability technician, said PLU has recently discovered a salon company, Aveda, that accepts the lids. Christine Cooley, sustainability manager, said Aveda is trying to use them to make their product bottles.
In residence halls, containers are available for students to recycle the bottle lids in. Elsewhere on campus, lids should still be taken off of bottles but then also put in the recycling.
4. Break it down
Breaking down cardboard boxes and any other type of jug or bottle doesn’t take much time, but Wangler said, “it makes our job a lot easier, and it actually helps use less resources as well so that you can keep sustainability going.”
5. Coffee cups are compostable
Be kind to the cups that carry your morning wake-up call, afternoon energy boost and evening kick. Wangler said the lids are recyclable, though the straws are not, and the cups are compostable once they have carried coffee.
6. How you recycle makes a difference
If you have several different materials to recycle, don’t try to make a recycling hybrid. Rhoades said he has found empty bottles and old papers in plastic bags, which he then has to open and sort. You can be the one to start the sorting process.
7. Can the condoms
Some things are best left in the landfill. “The condoms are the most ridiculous things and the most disgusting,” Rhoades said of the used condoms he finds in the recycling. “Don’t give us that gift,” Wangler said, who has also found many.
Vibrators and other sexual items cannot be recycled either. “There was a very intricate dildo I found one time,” Wangler said. “I don’t know what all the little buttons and everything were used for.”
8. Don’t recycle bottles of biohazards
While water bottles are recyclable, sometimes their contents would be better off flushed.
“We’ve had bottles of urine,” Wangler said. “We have to pitch it [the recycling] out, because it’s a biohazard at that point.”
9. When in doubt, don’t throw it out
If you’re not sure if something is recyclable or not, don’t just throw it in the trash. Rhoades said that about 90 percent of what is thrown out by the campus community is actually recyclable. “If you don’t know whether it’s recyclable or not, we would rather you put it in the recycling bin,” Wangler said.
10. Be nice
Remember these student workers are just like you. “Know that there’s not robots sorting,” Wangler said, but that it’s students who have busy schedules, classes and other jobs.
Swanson said he wishes the campus community would be more respectful and aware that it’s PLU students doing the job. “Just a bunch of little itty bitty time savers that take you like two seconds, take us two seconds times a hundred,” Wangler said. ◼︎