Recycling at Dartmouth: What Happens to Your Waste?


Over the past few weeks, there has been some confusion about waste at Dartmouth and rumors about recycling, or the lack there of, spread across campus. Students and faculty alike wondered whether Dartmouth had completely shut down its recycling operations. While we have set these rumors straight - yes, we are still recycling - it is important to pick apart how our recycling has changed, and why there was any turmoil in the first place. But briefly, a bit of background information:

In June, Dartmouth had an issue with incredibly high levels of contamination in our zero-sort recycling (such as food waste or clothing from dorm move-out). Consequently, our waste hauling service, charged the College fines to cover the cost of sorting through our waste and diverting some of it away from the recycling facilitiy and to landfill. Anyone involved with the waste industry will tell you that the value of recycled materials tracks fossil fuel prices. When fossil fuel prices are low, it is cheaper for companies (manufacturers) to buy new, virgin plastics made from petrochemicals than lower quality, recycled plastics from recyclers. This has been the case for recycling markets for most of 2016. This economic situation has made it more difficult for Casella, our recycler, to accept high levels of contamination in recycling and cover the costs of sorting out that contamination. In order to asses where contamination was occuring in Dartmouth's recycling system and to prevent additional fines, the campus decided to pause recycling in certain areas where contamination was highest -- mainly 3 dining halls on campus. It is in this state of semi-recycling that the rumors about no recycling at all began.

Over the past month, recycing has been reinstated in the dining areas that previously had the highest contamination - Novack, Collis, the Hop, and Baker/Berry, but with a slight twist. For example, due to new contamination requirements, napkins and paper towels are no longer recyclable. Corn-based plastics are also not recyclable. Even though they’re “plastic,” corn-based plastics don't melt down in the recycling system in the same way petro-chemical based plastics do. However, the brown and white cardboard-like containers used in Collis and the Hop are recyclable. Make sure to empty all food leftovers into compost before recycling!

While these rules may seem more complex, we are excited that with new signage, new waste collection infrastructure, and a team of interns & volunteers training users on how to properly sort waste, we've been able to reintroduce recycling and address contamination issues. It is important for all users of our waste system to sort and to understand that they are a critical part of this aspect of sustainability for the college. If students do not sort their waste properly, then the college will continue to be faced with challenging questions over whether or not we can maintain post-consumer recycling in certain high traffic areas of campus. We can do better, Dartmouth! Next time you or one of your peers approaches a waste receptacle, make sure to read the signage and sort your waste properly.

If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to our awesome Sustainability Office Waste Interns Charlie Levy ‘19 or Madison Sabol ‘18. They would be happy to answer any questions you may have and discuss waste! They also made a fun video about waste sorting and wrote some limericks to keep you inspired:

In Collis, we have some new signs
Turn away from your wasteful crimes
If you choose to compost
We’ll love you the most
Get woke and stay with the times!

Contamination put recycling to a halt
Food in plastic containers are at fault
Napkins and utensils are to blame too
Waste sorting is the right thing to do - 
It’s our default.

Casella’s our waste hauling service
The rules have changed, but don’t get nervous
Look in Collis for a helpful clue
We have new signs, WOOHOO
To contamination, we bid adieu

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