Sustainability crew’s sorting sharks make recycling simpler

The Sustainability Crew began the new semester in earnest this week with a refresher course in sorting work. As one of the newest members of the sustainability work-study team, I headed down to the Sorting Room on Thursday afternoon to see what it was all about.

Martin Maines and Patricia Skibko paper in the sorting room

Unity’s Recycling Coordinator Martin Maines is the man behind the ‘Sorting Room’. Outside the room sits a pile of ‘unsorted’ recycling. Here, the sustainability office’s work-study students begin the process of sorting by grabbing a bag and bringing it to the sorting table.

The “once is not enough” bags heaped outside the door to the sorting room can be seen all across campus, but they hold a surprising secret. Unbeknownst to most, the color of these bags is entirely insignificant. That’s right: there’s no reason to stress about whether the empty envelopes from mail and flyers from credit card companies should go in the green or white bag.  The sorting table exists to make life simpler for all of us.

This sorting table bears a strong resemblance to a pool table. Corner ‘pockets’ made of colorful rubber allow materials to slide over the cut-off corners of the table and fall freely into patiently waiting buckets below. Big, bold letters direct the items into the right place. The unsorted materials are dumped into the center and the table’s design allows the sorter to make sense of the mess in no time.

Since the majority of the materials sorted come from academic buildings, mixed paper and white paper are some of the items most often sorted through. Corrugated cardboard, which contains ridges and typically bulkier than it’s shorter-fibered paper cousins, gets a special place just outside the sorting room. This, along with the white paper, will fetch a higher price with the recycling companies that care for the town of Unity’s waste products.

Additional bins line the walls around the table. Bins for recycling specific plastics, including returnables, stand to one side under the sign-in and safety regulations. Work-study students are encouraged to follow these safety guidelines “so you guys don’t end up getting some weird new disease from working in the recycling room,” Maines quipped. A bag pinned to the wall houses recycled #4 plastic bags. This way, forgetful students who don’t always remember to bring their reusable shopping bags to the grocery store can dispose of unwanted plastic ones.

The sorting table

A bin for the true trash, which has no home in the recycling room, is amongst the smallest in the room. Items which frequently fill this bin include plastic wrappers and bubble wrap, Styrofoam, and coated wax papers such as milk cartons.

The table has certainly proved its worth.  “This past November and December alone,” Maines said, “the College diverted almost 11,000 pounds of waste,” the equivalent of thirty-three percent of the College’s total waste. Maines lists ’17 mature trees’ alongside 18,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, 4,200 kilowatts hours of electricity, 7,000 gallons of water, and many more savings the recycling crew achieved in the two-month period.

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About Kelsey Schrey