Ask Me About 156 Miles: Q&A with Resource Recovery Intern

Resource Recovery at America Recycles Day

Hi, I am an intern with UT Austin’s Resource Recovery. I am here to discuss 156 miles. Each year, a lot of coffee cups used on campus go to the landfill. If these cups were laid end-to-end, the line would stretch from here to Houston.  That comes out to about 33 cups per person, per year.  

At UT Austin we have a Zero Waste goal! In order to combat this waste and find a way to ease confusion about what is recyclable or compostable on campus, we're suggesting making it easier on yourself by bringing in your own reusable coffee cup or water bottle, which is also a great sustainable option.

Why do paper cups have to go in the trash?

Items made of mixed materials can’t be separated for recycling. Most paper cups unfortunately have to go in the trash—instead of compost or recycling—because they're lined with a plastic coating that is impossible to separate from the paper to properly remanufacture the raw materials into another item.

Why do Styrofoam cups have to go in the trash?

Styrofoam is messy. Styrofoam cups have to go in the trash, too, because they can’t be recycled in our single-stream collection bins; once Styrofoam gets emptied from the bin, it would get crunched into a million pieces during transportation and sorting—picture Styrofoam scattering down the street in the wind.

Where can you use your own cup on campus (and often get a sweet discount)?

At pretty much any coffee shop on campus (although some currently specify that you use their branded mug). And even if the shop doesn't give a discount for bringing your own, you won’t have to dispose of it when you're done and you’ll cut down on landfill waste!

Which cups are recyclable?

Most plastic cups, like those you get iced coffee or smoothies in, are recyclable. Drink or dispose of all liquids down the drain before recycling. Also rinse out goopy stuff like whipped cream. Otherwise those liquids ruin the quality of the paper in the recycling bin.

How can you identify compostable cups?

Compostable cups can be identified by the printed symbols on them. For example, if you see the "BPI CERTIFIED" symbol, the branding of "Ingeo," or if it just says "Compostable," those are all indications that the cup is safe to compost. They can be hard to find sometimes though, so make sure you check the whole cup, even the bottom, to make sure you don't miss any symbols. Plastic cups are compostable if you find the chasing arrows triangle symbol with “7 PLA” written inside. “PLA” means the cup is made from a plant-based material. Remember PLA = PLAnt!

Where can you dispose of compostable items on campus?

As of right now, you can find compost bins near both University Housing and Dining food retail locations and the Student Union dining area. The University is also starting to compost the restroom paper towels in buildings participating in our new Zero Waste Workplace (SSB and PAI), so make sure you don't throw away anything other than paper towels in the restrooms. Look for compost signage!

Resource Recovery recently had a great time getting the word out at the 2018 America Recycles Day tabling event! Special thanks to Annemarie, Waste Audit Team Member and REUSE Store Team Member, for sharing her tabling experience.