Penn State No Longer Recycles Three Types Of Plastics To Reduce Contamination Among Recyclables

Sep 10, 2019

Beginning this fall, Penn State no longer takes plastic bags, stretchy plastic film or miscellaneous plastics throughout the 15,500 recycling stations on University Park campus. 

It’s part of a plan recommended by the university’s Waste Stream Task Force to improve the overall quality of what they send to the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority.

The Waste Stream Task Force found that, “In academic buildings the waste audit observed contamination rates of up to 50% in the miscellaneous plastics category.”

Joanne Shafer, the Authority’s deputy executive director and recycling coordinator, said, they’ve been discussing the contamination issue with Penn State for years.

“What we discovered was that the bags that were getting mixed in with the other types of plastics coming from campus were highly contaminated with moisture, food residue, and so on and so forth,” Shafer said.

Those contaminants make it impossible to recycle the materials, she said, and it’s important to teach that simply throwing plastics into a recycling bin isn’t enough.

“It sounds somewhat counterintuitive to say that a major university has difficulty with educating their population,” she said. “However, people seem to do better when they understand the process.”

The county will still recycle plastics bags and take some miscellaneous plastics that are properly cleaned at six drop-off points.

Shafer said, achieving zero waste begins with making conscious purchases. 

“In other words, if you can't recycle styrofoam, why are we buying it? Is there a product that would be better and still cost effective to use?” she said.

The university has been paying contamination fees to the county. Under the new guidelines, the plastics that cannot be recycled will go into the landfill.