People often have misconceptions on what can and can't be recycled, sometimes prompting improper waste disposal. | Dakota Greenwich/Mustang News

Jen Silva

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For some Cal Poly students, watching someone drop a recyclable water bottle into the black trash bin instead of the clearly labeled blue recycle bin is as painful as watching someone get a needle in the eye. For others, recycling is more of a “guideline” than an actual rule — recycling isn’t the norm in some regions.

“I knew you can recycle plastics and cardboard, and I knew there were different kinds of plastics, and that’s when I stopped understanding,” former Idahoan resident and aerospace engineering junior Kinsie Ward said.

Regardless, Cal Poly students and faculty are meeting now with an ambitious goal: to increase recycling at the school from 50 to 80 percent. With that in mind, here’s a crash course on some of the facts and misconceptions about recycling.

Myth No. 1: It is OK to recycle a plastic water bottle but not the bottle cap.

According to Cold Canyon Processing Facility Manager John Ryan, both the plastic water bottle and its bottle cap can be recycled and will be separated by machinery either way.

Myth No. 2: Most of what you recycle gets thrown away in the trash.

On the contrary, 92 to 93 percent of what comes into the Cold Canyon Processing Facility gets recycled, Ryan said. Since 1990, due to Assembly Bill (AB) 939, California has mandated a 50 percent reduction in what is land-filled.

Cal Poly follows AB75, which states California State Universities (CSU) need to divert at least 50 percent of solid waste from landfill disposal to recycling products, Cal Poly Facilities Operation Manager Kevin Shaw said. Shaw is in charge of generating an annual recycling report, meaning he gathers data from all the different companies that take each section of Cal Poly’s recycling. In 2013, Cal Poly exceeded the mandate by reaching 62.7 percent. However, starting in the year 2020, the mandate will be raised to 80 percent.

Myth No. 3: You cannot recycle milk containers.

It’s true milk cartons made of plastic-coated paper are not recyclable, but the plastic milk jugs are made of plastic and are recyclable, according to Ryan.

Myth No. 4: You have to wash out cans before, otherwise they won’t be recycled.

One huge reason people tend to not recycle is due to laziness. Many people will not recycle based on a belief they must rinse out the cans before putting them in the recycling; and instead of doing so, they decide to throw the can away. However, this is a myth. Though it is helpful, Cal Poly Recycle Coordinator Cindy Lowe said, it is not required to clean out before recycling.

Myth No. 5: As long as it has a recycling symbol, it can be recycled.

Biology junior Nicole Desideri said she knows to recycle something if it has the recycle symbol.

“Plastic can be hard,” she said. “If it doesn’t have the recycle symbol, it can be tricky.”

False. There are some objects that may still have a recycle symbol but cannot be recycled. For example, Ryan said, though the Styrofoam cups have a recycle symbol, Styrofoam cannot be recycled on the Central Coast.

In addition, not all paper or plastic can be recycled, either. Plastic bags from grocery stores or plastic film both cannot be recycled, nor paper towels. There is a difference between reusable and recyclable, he said.

What can you recycle?

According to Shaw, Cal Poly recycles confidential shredded paper, concrete rubble, construction debris, electronics, campus food waste, cardboard, surplus, furniture, equipment, cars, manure, liquid, demolitions metal and coal-mingled waste.

The general public should be recycling cardboard, fiberglass, aluminum and plastic bottles, Ryan said.

Why recycle?

Anthropology and geography junior Stacey Olson said people need to save resources as much as possible.

“We live on a finite planet, and we are quickly using resources that we are never going to get back,” Olson said. “At this time, we are not making an effort to solve that, and when the time comes we will be struggling with what to do.”

Recycling is becoming one of the main ways to take immediate action to help save the planet, she said. Running out of resources will directly affect every single living organism on this planet.

Whether people are not recycling because of laziness or ignorance does not make a difference to Lowe.

“They’re either unaware or they don’t care,” Lowe said. “One person says it doesn’t matter, but if we’ve got thousands of people saying it doesn’t matter, it matters.”

How can we improve recycling at Cal Poly?

The main way to improve recycling, according to Lowe, is to think about what you are throwing away before throwing it in the trash. Also, next time your friend is throwing a plastic water bottle into the trash can, point out that she can throw it in the recycle bin. Some other ideas that Cal Poly students had were having more recycle bins, making clear signs of what you can and cannot recycle above the bins and making small basketball hoops over the recycling bins to turn recycling into a game.

Both Shaw and Ryan said it would be beneficial to incorporate lessons on recycling as a presentation during Week of Welcome (WOW) for incoming Cal Poly students.

It is important to spread awareness to students on-campus and incoming freshmen, Shaw said.

“If we want to generate a culture of sustainability with a high priority, we’re going to have to inoculate these new students with the importance of recycling,” Shaw said.

There will also be two informational sessions held for students and faculty to brainstorm ideas of how to spread awareness on campus. The meetings will be held by Cal Poly faculty on Thursday, Jan. 29, and Friday, Jan. 30, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in building 70, room 110.

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  1. Great article. Here’s one quick clarification. Actually, plastic bags and wraps can be recycled—just generally not in your curbside bin. Many major grocery and retail chains collect used plastic bags and wraps (aka “film”) in bins at the front of their stores – more than 18,000 stores nationwide participate. And most stores accept more than just plastic bags from grocery stores. So you can recycle your shipping pillows, bread bags, zip-top bags, and the plastic wrap around paper towels, bathroom tissue, paper plates, and more. Check online to find out where you can recycle these items near you:

    Shari Jackson | American Chemistry Council
    Director, Film Recycling

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