Local News

Rethinking recycling: ‘China won’t take our trash anymore’

Recycled paper
Bundles of recycled paper and cardboard at the Cedar Rapids Solid Waste and Recycling Center on Nov. 2, 2019. PHOTO BY JEFF SIGMUND

Kirkwood Community College’s main campus spans across 675 acres and serves a supermajority of the student population. With the amount of space being covered and number of people who visit Kirkwood, large quantities of waste build up fast.

According to Custodial Training and Development Coordinator Scott Story, the “Cedar Rapids campus generates 126,410 pounds of waste and recycle material per month. Our current recycling and commingle process enables Kirkwood to divert over 37,960 pounds from the landfill monthly,” he said.     

Due to recent changes in the world of recycling, what students try to keep out of the landfills may end up there anyway. According to NPR.org, China took in 70% of the world’s recycled material, approximately 7 million tons of recycled plastic, each year leading up to 2018.

In 2018, China put heavy restrictions on what can and cannot be sent for recycling. According to Story, “The headlines are China doesn’t want our recycled material anymore, which is not true. China does want our recycled material. They want our recycled material to be better.” 

People are now being asked to recycle smarter and higher quality materials. The reason for this, according to Story, “If you (the student) look at a water bottle from Costco, it’s super cheap plastic, it bends, you can squeeze it and it will make lots of noise. That water bottle, when melted down, has very little left of it. If you take a Pepsi or Mountain Dew bottle, it’s a little stiffer when I go to squeeze it. That bottle, when melted down, there is still something left that can be made into something else.”

However, quality is not the only issue with recycling materials but also contamination.   

“Contaminated does not necessarily mean everything is dirty. If I took everything in a recycling bin and sold it to someone to be turned into something else that would be wonderful unless there was one pizza box in there. If there is one pizza box in the mix, the whole thing is junk,” said Story.

It is because of the little things that are overlooked, that a large sum of what is “recycled” is just ending up in landfills, according to Story.

He added that currently Kirkwood administration is working to find solutions to help make a greener community and campus. Students are encouraged to take the initiative and to look at clubs and organizations on campus for support to create a greener world.

Image courtesy of Jeff Sigmund