Utilizing CNU’s single-stream recycling

The do’s, don’t’s and best practices for sustainable waste management

This past Friday, Nov. 15th was “America Recycles Day,” a yearly celebration and recommitment to sustainable waste management, specifically recycling. 

Here on campus, there are more recycling bins available across campus than ever thanks to the work of the Office for Sustainability and Plant Operations staff. 

Recycling is a great daily practice that can make you more conscious of your own waste, and doing so effectively and properly requires understanding the process. 

There are some very important dimensions to recycling, especially with our single-stream program here at Christopher Newport, that are important to know in order to make recycling more efficient. 

Here are some of the most important aspects of recycling to know (and share) about our single stream program here at CNU:

1. Single-stream means all of our recyclables go into one bin and one facility. You may have encountered a vast array of different recycling bins in your local Target, Whole Foods or other stores, one for every type of recyclable you can imagine. But here at Christopher Newport and in the city of Newport News, a single-stream program operates, meaning all acceptable recyclables go into the same bin, and all go to a materials recovery facility (MRF), where they are sorted and prepared for post-consumer use. 

2. There is an important distinction to make between “recyclable” and “acceptable.” This is probably the most important facet of our single-stream program – not all plastics, papers and otherwise “recyclable” materials are accepted in our single stream. 

Almost anything can be recycled with the right technology and resources, but our single stream program, as well as the Newport News city program, only accept certain types of materials based on their market to sell them out. 

For example, plastic grocery bags are recyclable, but they are not acceptable in our (and most) single stream programs because they require a unique process with different machinery to be recycled. 

Furthermore, there are many different kinds of plastics, most all of which are labeled with a small number in a recycling-shaped triangle as a 1, 2, 5, etc. Of these types of plastics, only 1’s and 2’s are accepted in CNU’s single stream, while 1’s, 2’s and 5’s are accepted by the city of Newport News’ recycling stream. 

That means things like plastic wrap, plastic silverware, many plastic drink cups and straws are not recyclable and should be placed in the trash. If you live on campus at CNU, you can use the attached diagram to see a comprehensive list of what you can place into campus recycling bins. 

3. The physical condition of our recyclables matters. The shape, form and overall condition of our recyclable materials can greatly impact the efficiency of recycling facilities. 

Some important recycling etiquette includes completely flattening cardboard boxes, never trying to recycle greasy pizza boxes or anything with non-washable food contamination, always rinsing your jars and bottles and separating different materials within bins (i.e. making sure paper bags don’t have plastic in them, etc.). This is an easy but crucial way to make recycling processes at material recovery facilities more efficient. 

4. Recycling is good, but reducing is great. Recycling whenever possible is a great lifestyle for anyone looking to be more environmentally conscious, but reducing and refusing the amount of unnecessary disposable waste that is so common in college life is the best lifestyle practice to develop. 

Personally, I always try to avoid using any non-acceptable materials (like plastic cutlery, plastic wrapped foods, certain plastic drink cups and straws) by using my own reusable ones. But even if I forget my reusable products, I will try to use paper or acceptable plastic alternatives instead of non-recyclable plastics or styrofoam. 

The best way to make your daily practices more sustainable is to understand what personal choice you can change or improve. 

A great exercise to kick-start thinking about your daily waste is to spend one day thinking about every time you go to a trash can, and note (1) whether or not there is a recycling bin within close proximity to it, (2) how much waste you are actually disposing there, (3) and how much of that is accepted recycling and (4) how much of that waste could be replaced with reusable products. 

Talking with friends, coworkers and professors are also great ways to learn about the individual practices of others that help them to be more sustainable in their resource use. 

For more information about recycling at Christopher Newport, you can visit the Office for Sustainability’s internal web page at https://interweb.cnu.edu/sustainability, where recycling and waste management resources are available to students, faculty, and staff.

~James Duffy, Staff Writer~

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