Recycling program puts old term papers to good use

Hilary Brueck

Today’s Daily may look surprisingly familiar. Anywhere from around one-third to one-fifth of this page comes from last month’s news – on recycled newsprint.

And if you take your reading to the bathroom, both ends reap the benefits of recycling. That toilet paper could come from an old flier or essay ground into tissue.

“What students used for a bad term paper, they can use again later in the bathroom,” Dana Donatucci, University recycling coordinator said.

The products we use day-in and day-out have to go somewhere, and with global warming and climate change on the minds of many, recycling not only reduces landfill use, but also reduces carbon emissions from burning trash.

So how does it all happen at the University?

More than 4,000 recycling centers on campus pick up 5,400 aluminum cans a day, which is about 70 percent of all discarded cans, Donatucci said.

The University program costs about $350,000 a year to operate, but Donatucci points out that “every ton recycled avoids $50 in waste” fees, and that the revenues on recycling that ton are around $80.

Every hour, the recycling facility, off Como Avenue, sorts and crushes hundreds of Coke cans, Vitaminwater bottles, magazines, phone books and even old computer screens and copper pipes.

The warehouse smells faintly of old, dried-up Coke and beer, and sounds like a crashing, clinking thunderstorm of metal cans. Employees sort and bale each type of recyclable and ship them to mills in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Canada to be remade.

The University program has grown from one building recycling paper in 1984, to the current system sorting cardboard, glass, cans, paper construction materials, bikes, refrigerators and nearly any other product discarded on campus.

The newest branch of the program is a pilot that Donatucci started in his office.

“I like garbage, for some reason,” he said. So he keeps a compost bin for his food trash next to his desk. He has shared his system with architecture students in Rapson Hall labs, and is looking at eventually making compost a campuswide program.

“I absolutely love it,” said Catherine Sandlund, a second-year graduate student in the architecture program. Sandlund composts at home and said it’s nice to not have to take all her food trash there. The bins take all her food waste, and paper napkins and towels.

Municipalities and recyclers could do more in this type of organics recycling, Paula Pentel, an urban studies instructor, said, adding that some cities in the metro area are starting to have curbside pickup for kitchen waste.

Overall, Minnesota recycles well compared to other states, she said. In 2006, Minnesotans recycled more than 41 percent of their waste.

But in terms of changing the ways that cans and paper are recycled, “I think we’re going to be stuck in this place for a while,” Pentel said. “Part of the problem is there has to be a market for this stuff.”

Paper can be recycled about seven times before it has to be retired to the landfill, she said.