Talking Trash

Penn joins the city in cleaning up its act.

By Morgan A. Zalot
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 30, 2008

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What a dump!: Penn produced Trash Mountain last Wednesday to make a point about recycling.

The grassy stretch of University of Pennsylvania's College Green provided the perfect locale for an epic amount of trash to be piled last Wednesday.

Every day thousands of students pass through the Green, hustling to classes, social events and dorms. Which is why the organizers of Penn's participation in this year's nationwide Recyclemania contest chose to kick it off there with an event called Trash Mountain.

"Trash Mountain is sort of a shock tactic--to be like, 'Wow, we're wasting a lot,'" explains senior math major Ryan Weicker, 22, who's from Las Vegas. As vice chair of Penn's Residential Advisory Board, Weicker played a pivotal role in the event's organization. "If you can see all the trash you've accumulated in a day compared to recycling, it's something to get people to think."

Penn's Facilities and Real Estate Services team piled the trash early Wednesday morning then cleared it a few hours later, making sure to separate recyclables from other waste.

In addition to Penn, several other colleges in Philadelphia--including Temple University, the University of the Sciences and Drexel University--also participate in Recyclemania. But they aren't the only ones in the city concerned with the issue.

In some neighborhoods the city has implemented a new single-stream recycling system in which all recyclable materials--from cardboard boxes to glass bottles--can be put out for collection in the same bin. And the Streets Department plans to expand the system citywide within the next three years.

Areas that have already experienced the conversion to single-stream include the Northeast, South Philly, West Philly and the Southwest section of the city.

"Single-stream recycling is an innovative process we piloted in 2004, and the success of the program has expanded it to more than 300,000 households," says Streets Department deputy commissioner Carlton Williams. "It's a win-win situation for both the government and the residents who use the program."

At first glance, it may look like more work for the city, but Williams says it's actually better for everyone. Now more materials--including cardboard--can be added to the mix.

Though the response to single-stream has been overwhelmingly positive--tonnage of recycled material has increased by up to 70 percent in some areas--Philadelphia still lags behind most major cities.

"Where I come from in Seattle, we do it all the time. I was shocked when I got to Philly to realize they didn't have it here," says Penn sophomore Mordechai Treiger, 20, a biology/ environmental studies major who also aided in planning Penn's Recyclemania events through his participation in the Penn Environmental Group.

Other U.S. cities that have implemented single-stream recycling programs include Baltimore; Portland, Maine; and Denver, to name a few.

Williams is thrilled with the near-instant success the program has enjoyed. He laughs at the irony of the only problem that has arisen so far--more recyclables than can fit in the city's bins.

"We have to look at increasing the size, but that's a good problem," he says. It sure is. For each ton of recycled material, a $34 profit goes to the city's general fund. An average of 115 tons of single-stream recycled material is collected daily. You do the math.

The new, more convenient way of recycling is undoubtedly a factor in the increased participation.

"Anything that makes it easier for people to recycle is good," says Penn's Weicker, who adds recycling is a challenge that can be life- changing--provided people make a habit of it.

The city has also been moving toward enforcing recycling laws. Williams says that during certain periods, citations for not recycling are issued daily to businesses and residences.

The system's future appears bright, "At a Council hearing, we said it would be launched in three years," says Williams. "But it looks like we're way ahead of schedule."

 

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