University students dig through trash to improve recycling effor - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

University students dig through trash to improve recycling efforts

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College students got their hands dirty by digging through campus trash cans as part of a recycling effort.

The University of Iowa's Office of Sustainability completes several waste audits a year to determine what's being recycled and what's being overlooked. On Thursday, student volunteers got a taste of what a waste audit is like. That afternoon students met in the campus's Iowa Memorial Union where trash bags were collected from throughout the building.

The trash bags were then dumped onto a long table to be sorted in the numerous recycling containers laid out on the floor. Each container was listed as a different type of recyclable goods such as paper cups, cardboard, to glass. 

"We want to see what types of material people are throwing away. It helps us identify materials that we could potentially be recycling instead or potentially composting," UI Recycling Coordinator, Elizabeth MacKenzie, said. MacKenzie led the student audit.

It was a grimy effort by students who sorted through half-eaten food and foul-smelling and unknown liquids.

"This is gross because it's a bunch of food, bunch of liquid. It's all mixed in and gets all mushy. It's not exactly the cleanest or a fun thing," Sophia Coker Gunnink said.

Coker Gunnink also is a recycling intern with sustainability office.

"I think recycling is one of those very easy things that you can teach people that makes a really big difference on campus. It's one of those things that you do daily so it's a very easy tangible way to be sustainable in your life," she said.

She said having that type of hands-on experience can lead to a more conscious recycling effort.

"You can see what you usually would not recycle or would recycle and you can see the mistakes other people make. I didn't realize you could put a little bit of dirty plastic in a recycling bin. I didn't know that," Coker Gunnink said.

As the students dumped and sorted each bag of trash, they found that a large amount of the items could have been recycled or composted.

"I think there's definitely some confusion that we'll have to overcome," MacKenzie said.

Each container was then weighed to see how much was wasted. MacKenzie said that information will then be compiled into data to see where the university can improve it's efforts in and what types of items people are most confused about.

The university set a goal to divert 60 percent of waste from the landfill by 2020. A 2017 audit found more than 12 million pounds of waste went to the landfill, which put the campus at a 38% diversion rate.

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