Are CCAC recycling efforts in the dump?


Jenna L. Korth

A student utilizes campus recycling bin. CCAC is trying to be more eco-friendly despite strict recycling codes.

Marissa Pekular, News Editor

In the last couple of years, a new era of progressive activism gained ground socially and politically in America – and its color is green. Due to the fact that climate change is being taken as a real threat, people are more ecologically conscious than ever.

In the spirit of sustainability, some CCAC students wanted to know just how green their campus really was.

At both the North Campus and West Hills Center, blue recycling bins can be found throughout the facilities; however, questions arose among the students and staff concerning the integrity of those blue bins. Some were skeptical, believing that the bins were just for show. Others, without hesitation, were sure that the college recycled weekly.

CCAC Physical Plant Supervisor, Brain Richards, oversees the college’s waste disposal program. When asked if CCAC recycles, Richards says, “Yes, we do. Sustainability and recycling are very important.”

During a meeting at the beginning of September, two representatives from Republic Services, a waste disposal company, met with the CCAC custodial staff. Both groups wanted the college to continue to recycle efficiently, despite China’s recent change in global policy. The only question was how.

One of the Republic speakers explained how the nation’s recycling system is now essentially broken. For decades, America sold millions of tons of plastic to China to be recycled into new products. In fact, China accepted 70 percent of the world’s plastic waste- about 7 million tons a year.

However, last year, the Chinese government announced that it would no longer buy most plastic waste from the U.S. and many other countries. As a result of these abrupt changes, China has completely banned imports of various types of plastic and tightened standards for materials that it does still accept.  There are now many plastic materials that once were considered safe to recycle, but would now “contaminate” a load of recyclable plastics. If a load is considered contaminated, it will most likely end up at a landfill. During the meeting, one of the Republic employees stated, “This has been one of the most detrimental things that has happened in waste and recycling.”

This strict rule specifically affects CCAC’s recycling process. At the end of the day, the custodians are instructed to evaluate the waste inside of the recycling bins. If they see any contaminating materials, such as a plastic bottle cap or a used pizza box, then that load cannot be recycled, and it will be thrown out as garbage. Richards commented, “Their job is to make an educated guess. It is their final decision.” If Republic finds a load of recyclables contaminated when they pick it up from the college, they will charge CCAC a monetary penalty. With this in mind, most custodians do not have the time to sort through the recyclable waste and pick out the items that do not belong. As a result, most of the waste from the recycling bins is thrown out. Richards stated, “My staff checks to see if it’s legit recycling. I’ll tell them ‘when in doubt, throw it out,’ but some do go above and beyond.”

Global recycling policies are constantly being updated, and the rest of the world is trying to catch up. Communities and colleges such as CCAC are learning to adapt to these changes, but the recycling process is now seemingly impossible.