Talking Trash with Resham Shirsat: Proposed Changes Coming to Valencia’s Recycling Program

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By Resham Shirsat, Director of Sustainability

Last year, in one of the Talking Trash articles, I defined Valencia’s multi-stream recycling program, which is approximately seven years old. Internal conversations and meetings on this topic resulted in the support to develop a request for proposals (RFP) to identify a collegewide single stream recycling vendor. This RFP will be combined with a solicitation for solid waste that may result in pricing, servicing and data reporting efficiencies for the College.

resham-shirsat-270wSingle stream simply means that all recyclables, such as paper/cardboard (aka “fiber”), aluminum and plastic, can all be placed in one recycling collection bin without the need for sorting. There has been a rapid rate of adoption for single stream, from one-fifth of U.S. communities in 2005 to two-thirds of U.S. communities using single stream in 2010. That figure has only increased since then. Orlando residents have been using single stream since 2012.

The intended benefit of transitioning from multi-stream to single stream is that this system takes less effort and thought, thus, encouraging more people to recycle, and recycle more often. Neighboring colleges also utilize single stream, which will make messaging and practices more consistent for our students as they transition to four-year institutions (and what they are most likely accustomed to practicing at home).

Another benefit is increased operational efficiency. Plastic trash liners can be reduced from three to one by not sorting recycling. Custodial time will also be saved from collecting the contents of one recycling container compared to three (paper, aluminum and plastic) currently.

Now, this is not to say single stream has no downfalls. Sorting keeps the stream cleaner and more pure. For example, paper gets dirtier when mixed with cans and bottles (from liquids, for example), compared to keeping all paper segregated and dry. Additionally, when the recycled material is “baled” into large cubes for shipping, single stream increases the amount of contamination, since other recyclable materials may end up in a bale of another stream. For instance, paper can unintentionally end up in a plastic bale, which is not useful for the manufacturer purchasing the plastic to make new products. Multi-stream sorting, although preferred by the manufacturers who purchase the recycled materials, is becoming obsolete in the U.S., and therefore, is harder to continue practicing because of its declining popularity.

Transitioning to single stream recycling provides an opportunity for the standardization of collection bins so we have one container design to use for all campuses. In a three-month stakeholder engagement process that included Custodial, Plant Ops, Facilities, Procurement, Marketing, the Collegewide Operations Leadership Team, Risk Management, campus presidents and campus operations managers, we produced a design that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Please read the next edition of this column for more updates on this work.

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