Recycling the Right Way

   Coming Soon: Recycle Right tips designed by Khristián Méndez Aguirre

Despite the gloomy press about recycling throughout the country, UT Austin’s recycling system is healthy, collecting 2100 tons of recycling last year. Even so, we all need to do our part to maximize our impact and Recycle Right … like keeping plastic film out of recycling because it wrecks havoc at sorting facilities.

The Scoop on UT’s Recycling

UT Resource Recovery helps coordinate the infrastructure and programs for UT Austin to meet its Zero Waste goal of keeping 90% of campus waste out of the landfill.  UT compactor trucks bring recyclable material to a material recovery facility (MRF) in east Austin. At this location, UT’s single stream collection is sorted to create large bales of specific types of materials (see the video below). These bales are then shipped to a reprocessor that purchases the material to make new items.  

UT Resource Recovery is monitoring recent changes in the recycling industry to determine the impact on campus. As a broad overview, China was the primary reprocessing destination for the recycling collected in the United States.  In early 2017, China began instituting new policies that drastically limited what materials they would accept in order to incentivize their own domestic recycling system and reduce the importation of trash coming in with the recycling and other environmental harm. This change rocked the recycling industry, resulting in plummeting prices paid for recyclables and a loss of reprocessing markets. As a result, many municipalities had to cut back on the materials they would accept in their recycling collection.

UT Resource Recovery recently met with and received assurance from the local recycler that the recyclables sent are actually getting recycled. Of particular concern are lower grade plastics bearing the resin codes #3-7 which have fewer markets. However, this plastic—as well as small pieces of hard plastic such as loose water bottle tops that often fall onto the MRF’s glass pile—is not getting piled up or landfilled and is being recycled.  UT also learned that shredded paper can be collected with the single-stream materials as long as it is placed in the dumpster in its own white or clear bag. This way, staff at the MRF can pull out the bag to keep it from going down the entire sort line where the small shreds would be lost through the equipment.

Recycle Right Tips

Data collection by students shows that UT can recycle even better: an additional nine percent of our current trash is actually recyclables and up to a fifth of items sent to the MRF don’t belong there and could result in fines for the university.

These are Resource Recovery’s top three recycling tips:

  1. Only recycle items clearly made with one type of material – paper, hard plastic, aluminum/steel, cardboard or glass. Any item that is a combination of materials, like a carton or a paper cup that has a plastic liner with the paper, cannot be separated for recycling.
  2. Film plastic – plastic that is easy to crinkle and ball up or wrap around your fingers, like grocery bags, chip bags, stretch wrap, granola bar wrappers and candy bar wrappers – cause serious problems in the MRF, wrapping around equipment and even shutting down the facility. These items need to be put in specialized instead of single-stream recycling.
  3. Any items with grease, food residue or liquids ruin the quality of the other materials being collected. Rinse, wipe out, or pour down the drain to remove the majority of container contents before recycling the item.

UT Austin has a big goal and it takes all Longhorns to make it happen! Follow Resource Recovery on social media, find resources on their website, and email your questions.

This article was written by Lindsey Hutchison, Zero Waste Coordinator


Recycle Right Plastic Film Tip
July 24, 2019