Contaminated bins inhibit environmental efforts, recyclable material thrown away

Single contaminant can result in disposal of entire bin

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As climate change has become a large focus in society, recycling has become more popular. At New Trier however, student participation in the recycling program is still lacking.

Part of the issue is that students throw their things, especially food, in the trash without taking the time to think about, and be mindful of, recycling. Rumors about New Trier not actually recycling contributes to the lack of participation and has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“I know a lot of people think that New Trier doesn’t even recycle, and so when someone thinks that New Trier doesn’t recycle, then they don’t care what they put into the recycling, so they end up [contaminating the bin] making it true.” said Environmental Club co-president Will Kincaid.

“It’s a positive feedback loop and the problem gets worse and worse because the rumor spreads that New Trier doesn’t recycle, so people are less mindful about where they put things,’’ added Environmental Club co-president, Josh Glucksman.

Building operations manager on the Winnetka campus, Erik Munson, confirmed that New Trier does in fact recycle.

“We use Lake Shore Recycling. They take the recycling to a place called Heartland in Northbrook, and from there it’s sent to a multi-recycle facility or a material recovery facility where it’s sorted, bailed, and sold as different types of product,” said Munson.

New Trier has around 4000 students, and yet the school only recycles about two tons every week. That is less than half a pound per student per week, and part of this is due to contamination.

A single item can contaminate all of the recycling that touches it. New Trier doesn’t have the manpower on campus to sort through the bins, so as a result, contaminated bins just get thrown away.

“It is important to make sure that the cardboard and paper that’s put in the recycling isn’t contaminated with food residue because then it will automatically not be recycled.” Munson said.

Once the recycling is picked up and taken to the recycling plant, where it is sorted. From there, if too much of the load is contaminated, all of the school’s recycling can be rejected.

“At a certain percentage of load that’s contaminated, that load gets rejected. What I was told is that basically 10% can be contaminated before it’s rejected. I haven’t had a rejected load in the last year, so we are doing really well, considerably better,” said Munson.

The Environmental Club has worked on creating signs to help increase participation in the recycling program.

“I know that at New Trier, it’s a very fast paced school. Everyone’s always rushing to their next thing. Everyone’s very busy, but if you look up, there are a bunch of really good signs all around the school, especially near the trash cans, that tell you exactly what to do and how to recycle. If you just look up and spend an extra second, it really makes a difference.” said Glucksman

The signs mainly focus on outlining what can go in the recycling and what has to be thrown away.

“The most important thing is sorting because most people just dump everything into the recycling or the trash, but when you sort out what goes in the trash, what goes in the recycling, and what goes in the compost, it just makes the system work better.” continued Glucksman 

“It’s so great that so many people care about it, and we are going to try to make it feasible for the recycling to work at all costs,” said Glucksman.