Garbology 101

Garbology 101The discarded plastic, paper, glass, and cans that you toss into your single-stream recycling container at home really does end up getting sorted and recycled at the region’s privately owned facility in Elkridge, Md., but it helps if you know the inside story.

The University’s UMB Go Green sustainability program worked with environmental scientist Sarah Koser to present a recycling primer on Feb. 8 in the Green Room, on the first floor of the SMC Campus Center. Koser and Clare Banks, of UMB Go Green, visited the sprawling Waste Management (WM) Inc. recycling facility, which handles refuse from most of Maryland as well as jurisdictions from Delaware, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, and Northern Virginia.

Though the recyclables are mixed together, Koser told the more than 35 people gathered for the lunchtime presentation that a combination of humans, magnets, gravity, lasers, and even electrical charges separate and sort more than 70 tons of refuse into useful components each hour. Aluminum is trucked to industrial giants like Alcoa and Anheuser-Busch, who turn it back into cans, while plastics are destined for new life as carpets, soda bottles, or Chinese-made plastic buckets.

Recycling on campus requires that paper be sorted from glass, metal, and plastic. But Koser said it all ends up in the same big pile by the time it lands at the Howard County recycling plant.

The next step in recycling is sorting out items that can be composted. That’s not being done on campus, though some institutions — including the National Aquarium in Baltimore — are asking visitors to sort their refuse into piles of compostables and recyclables.

— Jeffrey Raymond

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