Friday, June 24, 2016

Trash in Your Trash? Reducing Contamination Among Recyclables and Compostables

Contamination is a top concern for us at the U-M Waste Reduction and Recycling Office (WRRO) and it should be one for you too. Contamination occurs when trash and other things that don’t belong are collected with recyclables and compostables. Plastic bags, glass containers, and light bulbs are just a few of the items considered recycling contaminates at U-M. Anything that’s not food waste, like a coffee cup or plastic fork, is considered a contaminate among compostables.

However, if you attend a Zero Waste Event, the cups, plates, napkins, and cutlery you throw away will all be compostable due to their special design.

Recycling Contamination
U-M sends mixed recyclables to a Materials Recovery Facility. There, the recyclables are sorted, baled, and sold.

Keeping recycling contamination rates low is required in order to:
  • Prevent unsafe working conditions for sorters
  • Maintain the quality and financial value of our recyclables
  • Prevent damage to machinery
U-M is allowed a 9% contamination rate in our recyclables. The contamination rate is not set at  0% because the recyclables will be thoroughly sorted.

What is U-M doing to reduce contamination among recyclables?
The WRRO maintains, a website that provides all the information you need to figure out what you can and can’t recycle at U-M. The WRRO also publishes this blog in addition to posting on social media to spread the word about best recycling practices. Rufus the Recycler is also a diligent figure on campus during fall and winter semesters, educating students about recycling at U-M.

New recycling bin signs are also in development to be standardized across the University. The new signs will make it easier for you to know exactly what you should put in the recycling bin or the trash bin.

Compostables Contamination
U-M sends compostable food waste to WeCare Organics, the private operator of the City of Ann Arbor’s compost center. There, food waste eventually decomposes, becomes compost, and is sold as fertilizer or soil adamant.

Compostables are not sorted, requiring that all the material we send to WeCare Organics must decompose. This means that U-M must be more strict in its efforts to reduce contamination among compostables than it is with recyclables. After all, you wouldn’t want to find a plastic cup mixed in with the compost you purchased for your garden.

What is U-M doing to reduce food waste contamination?
While we can’t sort through food waste, we can make sure that what we originally put in the compost bin is a compostable. Pre-consumer food waste is collected by trained staff in the prep kitchens of U-M dining halls and catering locations. The East Quad dining hall also processes post-consumer food waste through a pulper, extracting water, before sending it to the Compost Center.

In addition to the standardization of recycling signs, compost signs will be updated and standardized to improve the understanding of what compostables are.

So what can YOU do to reduce contamination among recyclables and compostables?
  • Be mindful of what you put into the recycling bin or compost bin.
  • Remember, when in doubt, throw it out.
  • Take advantage of the resources provided by the WRRO and educate yourself about what is recyclable and compostable at U-M. Visit!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Coffee Waste

What's the first thing you do in the morning? For many of us, it's the routine action of filling up the coffee pot and measuring out coffee grounds. The day just doesn’t start until after having that first hot cup of liquid caffeine.

Coffee wakes us up, but many of us are still sleeping through the alarm that is the enormous amount of coffee related waste. Fortunately, there are innovative ways to handle this waste from coffee production to the coffee in your hand.

Coffee waste commonly comes in three forms: cherry pulp, used coffee grounds, and coffee accessories.  

Cherry Pulp
To get a coffee bean, you need to extract the seed from a coffee cherry. While the coffee bean will processed, exported, and made into a delicious cup of joe, the cherry is often discarded. Imagine for every coffee bean you bought from the store there was a matching cherry thrown away.

Here are some ways that coffee farmers and companies are reducing coffee pulp waste:

Cattle feed
  • Coffee pulp can replace commercial concentrates in cattle feed, meaning more savings for local farmers and boost to the agricultural economy in coffee-growing countries!
Mushroom growing substrate
  • Coffee farmers can also use coffee pulp to create a substrate for mushrooms to grow in. Coffee pulp encourages fast growth and the mushrooms mean extra income for coffee farmers.   
Coffee flour
  • Coffee pulp can also be made into flour for baking! The flour doesn’t taste like coffee at all and it's gluten free.

Used Coffee Grounds
We all know what used coffee grounds are, but did you know that they can be used in…

  • Each pair of Denim X Cafe jeans made by American Eagle Outfitters is made with 2.25 grams of used coffee grounds.
  • Designer, Adam Fairweather, creates furniture made with materials containing 60% used coffee grounds.
  • Anyone can dispose their coffee grounds into the compost bin!
  • A company called Bio-bean transforms old coffee beans into pellets that are used to heat homes.

Coffee Accessories
Coffee accessories are all of extra items that go along with preparing and serving coffee for the consumer. While that coffee stirrer and Starbucks cup may seem like a small amount of waste, thousands of people are throwing away filters, cups, stirrers, coffee sleeves, and sugar packets every day!

Here are some tips to reduce the waste incurred by preparing your favorite cup of coffee:
  • Use a reusable mug or to-go cup when you purchase a drink from the coffee shop. You’ll often get a discounted price for doing so! If you’re planning on staying in the shop while you enjoy your beverage, ask for the drink to be prepared “for here” so that the barista know to give you a mug instead of a throw away cup.
  • Use creamer and sweetener from a bulk container instead of individual packages and use a reusable spoon to mix
  • When you make coffee at home, use a compostable coffee filter and throw both the grounds and the filter into the compost bin once your brew is ready. You could even try a reusable metal mesh filter too!
  • Skip the Keurig, if you want individual coffee portions tryout a French press. A French press will cost you 10% of what a Keurig machine would and you won’t being throwing away dozens of non-recyclable plastic k-cups.

Want to learn more about the coffee waste reduction methods mentioned in this blog? Check out these websites!

Friday, June 10, 2016

How to Reduce Textile Waste

What do you do with clothing that’s broken, old, or no longer fits? What about shoes? Accessories? Towels? Bedding? These are just some of the items that make up the 25 billion pounds of textile waste produced every year in the U.S.

While 15% of textile waste is donated or recycled (roughly 12 pounds per person), a staggering 85% (70 pounds per person) of textile waste is sent to landfills. Textile waste makes up more than 5.2% of all municipal solid waste generated in the U.S.and unfortunately, that number is growing.

So what can we do to reduce textile waste? If you guessed reduce, reuse, recycle then you’re right! Here’s how:

Reduce - Buy less stuff

  • Plan your shopping. When you shop with the purpose of buying what you need, your chance of making an impulse buy drops dramatically. This means you’ll have less unnecessary items stuck in the back of your closet.
  • Be thoughtful as you shop. When you do need to make a purchase, consider the lifespan of the item. Will the item last multiple washes? Will it go out of season in a month? While it might cost you a little more upfront, buying a well made item can save you money in the future when you don't have to keep replacing a poorly made one.
  • Borrow clothing! If you have special event to go to, check out a friend’s closet before you hit the sales rack. It’ll save you some money too.

Reuse- Get creative
The Getup Vintage
  • Extend the life of a product by repurposing it. If you find clothing, sheets, or towels with holes in them, cut them into smaller strips to use as rags for cleaning! You can also upcycle t-shirts into completely different items like a rug or a produce bag. Learn how to here!
  • Purchase clothing, shoes, and accessories from vintage clothing stores or secondhand shops. Reducing textile waste doesn’t mean sacrificing fashion! There are many great second hand shops in Ann Arbor, but if you’re looking for vintage fashion head over to The Getup Vintage, conveniently located close to campus! This store stocks beautiful secondhand clothing, you won’t even remember that your purchase will help to reduce textile waste!
  • Donate your textiles to charity or resell your gently used clothing!
Recycle- Say goodbye
  • Take your clothing to a municipal recycler to be recycled. Recycle Ann Arbor accepts torn or stained textiles and linens at their drop off station. Charities will also resell textiles to be recycled. Textiles are recycled and converted into reclaimed wiping rags that are often used in as industrial and residential absorbents. Textiles can also be recycled into fibers which are then used to made insulation, carpet padding and other raw materials for the automotive industry.

Council for Textile Recycling. (n.d.). Retrieved June 09, 2016, from

Lombardo, C. (Ed.). (2013, December 22). The Impulse Shopping Fact Sheet. Retrieved June 09, 2016, from

Thursday, June 2, 2016

7 Tips to Reduce Waste This Summer

Carefree summer days are upon us! Now that you find yourself on the go and spending more time outdoors, you may need a few tips to help you reduce waste this season.

1. If the warm weather motivates you to exercise outdoors, add filling up a reusable water  bottle to your routine or make sure to recycle a non-reusable plastic bottle.
2. Want to reduce your carbon footprint while staying active? Try bicycling to work if you  live close enough!

Don't Forget the Doggy Bag
3. Fido is also going to want to explore the great outdoors this summer too. When you  take your dog for walks either in the park or in your neighborhood, make sure to pick up  your pet’s waste. Dog waste can become a major source of water contamination if pet  owners don’t pick up after their dog.

Forget the Styrofoam
4. If you’re planning an excursion to the park or beach, pack the picnic in a reusable    cooler and bring reusable utensils. You can also pack food in Tupperware! This way you  can skip worrying about where to put your waste (you won't have any!) and you can spend  your time enjoying the outdoors.

5. If you’re planning a summer barbecue, take some steps to reduce waste. Using reusable plates and utensils will impress your guests, especially if you pair them with a  tablecloth or placemats! While you may have to load the dishwasher later, know that you’ve diverted a lot of waste from the landfill.If you have access to composting, you could also purchase compostable plates, cups, and utensils to avoid the wash up after your event!

In the Backyard
6. Start a compost pile in your backyard to divert waste from the landfill! You can throw  your yard clipping and kitchen scraps into the compost pile. Learn how to here.

7. Leave your grass clippings on the ground! Not only will this reduce waste, but the grass  clippings will return valuable nutrients to the soil and it will mean less work for you.

Have fun this summer and reduce waste!