Matthew Fainor, '20, speaks to those in attendance for the 'Dream it! Build it!' event on Thursday, Feb. 7th, 2019, in STEPS. Fainor is the Lehigh Eco-Reps campus events coordinator and helped collaborate with Alpha Omega Epsilon to run the event. (Courtesy of Nora Thomson)

Recyclemania 2019 promotes zero-contamination recycling

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The Office of Sustainability is going green during Recyclemania 2019, an eight-week long national competition between colleges and universities to promote waste reduction and recycling activities on college campuses.

Recyclemania 2019 will be running from Feb. 3-March 30. This is Lehigh’s seventh year participating. 

Since Lehigh University’s recycling vendor’s allowable contamination rate of recyclables decreased from 10 percent to 0.5 percent, the focus of Recyclemania 2019 became “zero-contamination” recycling.

“This year, Lehigh’s goal is zero-contamination recycling, which means that we are focusing with faculty, staff, and students on making sure that only what’s actually recyclable is being put in the recycling bins and that it is free from food and liquid contamination,” said Katharine Targett, Lehigh’s sustainability program manager. “The reason being is due to the current global state of the recycling industry and its tightening on contamination levels.”

If any bags of recycling have more than 0.5 percent of contamination, Lehigh’s recycling vendor will not accept it and instead throw it in the trash.

The Office of Sustainability provides tips on how to achieve zero-contamination recycling on its website. The first tip is to make sure that what you are recycling is approved to be recycled at Lehigh.

Mixed paper, plastic containers, glass containers and metal cans can be recycled at Lehigh. Food and food packaging, single-use items, caps, lids, straws and napkins should be thrown out in the trash.

After it is determined that an item can be recycled, students, faculty and staff must ensure that the recyclables are clean. This means there can be no food residue or liquid on anything being recycled.

“Contamination in a recycling bag could look like a piece of bread or a little bit of soda in a bottle,” Targett said.

The Office of Sustainability recommends that students throw out an item in the trash if they are unsure whether it should be recycled or not. This eliminates the risk of contaminating an entire bag of recyclables.

Throughout February and March, the Office of Sustainability and other partnering organizations are hosting events to promote Recylemania and zero-contamination recycling.

On Feb. 7, Alpha Omega Epsilon and Eco-Reps collaborated on a Recyclemania event called “Dream It! Build It!” where participants competed to see who could build the most sustainable bridge out of recycled materials.

Participants decided what materials to use based on their assigned prices and sustainability levels. The bridges were then judged on length, strength, sustainability, creativity and innovation.

“This is a way to engage students in a really fun and interactive event in order to educate them in the short term of their immediate recycling habits on campus,” said Matthew Fainor, the Eco-Reps campus events coordinator. 

Casey Urban, ’19, is an environmental engineering major who participated in the event. She said she believes it is important for Lehigh students to be more mindful of sustainability.

“For my classes, I get information on sustainability and the topic is built into my major more,” Urban said. “For students in other disciplines, they might not hear about the environment at all but it really does affect every part of what you are going to do in your life. It is important for students to be self aware and encourage awareness of the environment.”

Throughout the competition, students can bring their recyclables to a table on Tuesdays from 1-2 p.m. and Fridays from 2-3 p.m. on the second floor of the University Center. Students at the table will be sorting through recyclables and determining what items can be recycled or not.

Each student’s recyclables will be weighed and the student at the end of each week who brought the most recyclables to the table will win a $40 gift card.

An entire calendar of events for Recylemania can be found on the Office of Sustainability’s website. 

“The goal of Recyclemania is to make everyone more mindful of their recycling habits and to acquire sustainable habits,” Targett said. “Often times, it is human nature to just toss stuff without thinking. We are really trying to get faculty, students and staff to take that extra five seconds to think before throwing something contaminated in the recycling bin.”

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