University of Maine students have a new opportunity to contribute to the welfare of the environment. The Residence Recycles program has discovered the means to rid campus trash of bulky, one-time use pizza boxes.
The method emerged when Jessica L. Richards of Residence Recycles embarked on a mission to find exactly how much waste pizza boxes created at UMaine.
“It was discovered that the amount of pizza boxes being thrown away was enormous. My findings were astonishing,” Richards said. “I learned that a majority of the trash building up from the residence halls comes from the remnants of food.”
Richard’s research into the Orono pizza industry began by contacting local vendors who provide food delivery services to campus. Over 17,000 pizzas are delivered to campus each month, according to Richards, and is the second largest residence hall waste item, accounting for 25 tons of waste each academic year.
Students from Residence Recycles visited the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company, one of the state’s largest waste management facilities, located in Orrington. Peter Prata, PERC plant manager, said he often sees a reckless throw-away of materials that can be recycled, used by someone else, or have not been used at all.
“It’s a crying shame what we do here in this country,” Prata said.
Maine currently ranks in the top ten percent of states with the largest percentage of municipal solid waste recycling, according to the State Planning Office’s waste management and recycling plan. This is something Richard said she hopes to change.
“Preserving the longevity of this planet is worth a little conscientiousness in my daily routine,” Richards said.
The goal of the program is to find a vendor who will support the purchase of the boxes and recycle them. Another option is to transport the boxes to Whitter and Rogers farms and have them disposed of in the compost piles. Either system reportedly requires dramatic changes to the current system, according to Richards.
The university would incur the expense of purchasing new equipment. The cost of the equipment is not known at this time. However, Richards said the university will save money on more than just trash removal by implementing the program.
“If we recycle pizza boxes we can save over $16,000 a year in trash removal pay-out and cut down our overall waste,” she said. “It saves the university money by selling the cardboard in the recycling program.”
Eco-cycle, one of the largest non-profit recycling organizations in the U.S., published an article stating that paper fibers contaminated by food are not able to be processed for recycling. Non-contaminated parts of the box can be recycled, but contaminated portions must be thrown away, or composted.
With the implementation of both ideas developed by Residence Recycles, contaminated boxes could be composted, while those salvageable are recycled, potentially eliminating all waste from pizza boxes within the campus community.
“As a campus I think that by taking personal responsibility for our trash, and promoting recycling, we are cultivating a more diverse sense of community,” Richards said.