Recycling makes money for K-State, reduces landfill waste

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Does recycling make economic sense and help the environment as well? I think that the answer to this question depends on where you live and the system of waste management in place, but here in Manhattan, the answer is a resounding yes.

People have heard many different ideas about this issue, so sometimes it is hard to sort through the information. Here are the details of the economics of waste management at K-State.

We have to pay $45 per ton to landfill our trash, but we get paid from $80 through $1,100 per ton for different materials when we recycle them, according to Bill Spiegel, supervisor of the KSU Recycling Facility.

Spiegel said that in a recent eight-day collection period after which all of the materials were sold to Howie’s Recycling and Trash Service on Jan. 23, K-State collected 32,654 pounds of recyclables. Landfilling these materials would have cost $734.71, but instead, K-State made $2,615.37 by recycling the materials.

Our campus came out over $3,300 ahead by recycling our waste instead of landfilling it. And, this is only by recycling around 23 percent of our waste. According to a Dec. 26, 2005, Montgomery Advertiser article by Sebastian Kitchen, about 70 percent of people’s waste could be recycled and kept from the landfill.

If we really took seriously keeping recyclables out of the landfills, our campus could make around $9,000 every week. Imagine how this money would add up and help all of the students pay less for their education in the long run.

Clearly from this data, recycling makes good economic sense in Manhattan. We all just need to start sorting our waste and putting it in the proper bins for the savings to add up. If we continue to throw recyclables in the trash, it is essentially the same as throwing money in the trash.

Recycling is important for the energy saving and pollution reducing aspects as well. The Environmental Protection Agency Municipal Solid Waste web page shows that Americans produced around 250 million tons of solid waste every year for the last 10 years. The most that we recycled of this is 85.1 million tons in 2010. How long can we keep sending around 165 million tons of trash to the landfills every year?

According to Nov. 13, 2008, Popular Mechanics article by Alex Hutchinson, aluminum “requires 96 percent less energy to make from recycled cans than it does to process from bauxite … Recycled plastic bottles use 76 percent less energy and newsprint about 45 percent less … Across the board, the key factor is the energy intensity of extracting virgin materials, which is an order of magnitude higher than that of recovering the same material through recycling.”

We can make major progress towards energy independence by using our energy more efficiently rather than solely focusing on acquiring new sources of energy.

We must think critically about where the products we use come from and where the waste generated goes. Also, it is important to understand that energy, water and many other resources are used to produce these products, so recycling helps preserve many of our common resources at the same time as reducing the amount of pollution we create.

I never thought much about throwing food waste in the trash until I learned more about this topic from our great agronomy department on campus. Composting food waste prevents it from going to the landfills, where it breaks down anaerobically and produces methane. When composted, food waste instead generates organic matter that can enhance our soil.

It is up to use whether we turn our unused food scraps into a fertile soil amendment or trap it in between other trash in a landfill, never to be used again in many lifetimes.

Finally, e-waste, including old batteries, computers and TVs, should not be disposed of in landfills. It is nearly impossible to make a landfill that never leaks into the soil and possibly groundwater underneath, so we need to keep this electronic waste from the landfill to prevent heavy metals and other chemicals from contaminating our water supplies as well as to reduce the need for the destructive mining for many of these rare earth elements.

The Recyclemania competition against KU provides a good short-term reason for us to want to dramatically increase our recycling percentages. More long-term reasons include saving our campus money, preserving our common resources, preventing pollution and passing down a cleaner world to future generations.

In many parts of campus, it is less convenient to recycle than to throw waste in the trash. This is where we need student involvement to push for more recycle bins. If we demand a more efficient and sustainable waste system, the administration will listen.

Please think more about the waste we all produce and where it should go in a responsible, sustainable system. Eventually, we will need to move away from a nearsighted culture to one that really considers and plans for many future generations ahead. How long we wait and how many landfills we fill up until that happens is up to us.

 

Matt DeCapo is a senior in architectural engineering and physics. Please send all comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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