America Recycles Day

November 15th marks America Recycles Day. The event was created to celebrate and prioritize recycling in America. This year Keep America Beautiful and America Recycles Day are pairing together to celebrate the day and are asking people to:

  • pledge to learn about recycling in their communities,
  • act by reducing the amount of waste they produce and recycling what they do, and
  • share their efforts with their family and friends.

Thousands of people and organizations are holding events for the day across the country. Their efforts each year seem to be working as the national recycling rate has increased over the past 30 years, leaving the current recycling rate at 34%.

ISTC prioritizes recycling in many of its activities. It is evident in the research and technical assistance they conduct. They are looking for ways to recycle and reuse everything from solar panels and waste plastics to wastewater. ISTC’s Zero Waste Illinois and technical assistance programs conduct waste audits and other services for Illinois business and organizations of all sizes to help them switch to less toxic chemicals, divert materials from the landfill, and reduce water use.

Recycling is usually discussed in relation to the three Rs. Reduce consumption, reuse what you can’t reduce and, recycle what you can’t reduce or reuse. The fourth R is rethink. Consider ways to improve your environmental footprint, starting with decreasing consumption. . Make every day America Recycles Day.

Back to School Sustainability

August and September mark the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. Back to school season is often stressful, especially because of the emphasis put on buying new school supplies. According to the 2018 Huntington Backpack Index, parents can expect to pay anywhere from $637 to $1,355 per child for classroom supplies, depending on their grade level. Back to school shopping is not only expensive, but it is also often wasteful because many students don’t end up using all of their supplies. Luckily, you can reduce the stress and expense of going back to school by following a few simple steps:

Take inventory of everything you already have

This is an essential first step not only because you won’t buy more of something you already have, but also because it gives you the opportunity to donate or sell things you don’t need anymore. Take a look at the C-U Donation Guide for more places to donate your used stuff.

Thrift your back to school fashion

If you are looking for some fresh pieces for your wardrobe you can check out local thrift stores like Courage Connection, Twice is Nice, or Goodwill.

Fix old supplies or thrift new used ones

The Gadget Garage will help you fix broken electronics. The Idea Store is a great place to go to for used school supplies. They stock everything from highlighters, to notebooks. The University YMCA also holds an annual Dump and Run sale in August where students can purchase a variety of used furniture and other household items for their apartments.

Buy used books

Choosing used or electronic books is always better than buying new ones because it is cheaper and saves so many trees. Also, consider borrowing the book from a friend or your local library.

Prepare a packed lunch

Taking lunch from home can save a lot of money and prevent unnecessary, single-use packaging from entering landfills. Plus, packed lunches are often more nutritious. Introducing Meatless Mondays into your schedule and limiting meat consumption whenever possible can also greatly reduce your environmental impact.  

Bike or walk to class

Cars are expensive to maintain and to park. Instead of driving, consider walking or biking to class. If you don’t have a bike and are interested in getting one, you can check the Campus Bike Shop where you can buy one used. You can also rent one from Neutral Cycle. Also, look for the Urbana Police Department’s annual bike giveaway in the spring. If you really need a car, consider ditching yours and using ZipCar.

Take public transportation

All students, faculty, and staff with an icard can ride the Champaign-Urbana MTD for free. It can take you almost anywhere in the Champaign Urbana area free of charge.  

Plastic Is Forever – or Is It?

WRITTEN BY: Katherine Gardiner, ISTC staff

lots of bottles all lined up outside to show how wastefull single use bottles are

Plastic waste is one of the leading environmental concerns in the world today.

Many times, consumers use a plastic product just once before throwing it away. We might only see it for a short time – a plastic shopping bag, for example – but that plastic bag can sit in a landfill for decades before it is broken down completely.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, areas of floating plastic pieces and microplastics (<5mm) in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii, is estimated to be three times the size of France. Dianna Parker of the NOAA Marine Debris Program insists that cleaning up the garbage patch isn’t enough. She explains,  “until we prevent debris from entering the ocean at the source, it’s just going to keep congregating in these areas.”

What if there was a way to stop plastic from filling up our landfills and polluting our waterways?

ISTC researchers B.K. Sharma and Kishore Rajagopalan worked with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to convert plastic bags into fuel.

Two jars: one contains a plastic shopping bag, the other contains oil made from the plastic shopping bagThe team collected high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bags from local shops and used a pyrolysis unit to turn them into plastic crude oil (PCO). After distilling the PCO, analyzing the resulting fuels, and adding antioxidants, the products met nearly all specifications of the conventional diesel standards.

In fact, the researchers’ HDPE-derived fuels beat out conventional petroleum diesel when it came to the fuel’s lubricity and derived cetane number, which is an indicator of the combustion speed. The team concluded that their plastic-based fuel could be blended safely and efficiently with petroleum diesel fuel, reducing the amount of plastic ending up in landfills or out into the environment while also creating something valuable from the waste plastic.

More recently, ISTC researchers B.K. Sharma and Sriraam Chandrasekaran developed the first energy-efficient and environmentally friendly process to separate mixed polymers in waste plastics, allowing the waste plastic to be recycled into new, high-quality plastic products.

Single polymer plastics, such as water bottles, are easy to recycle because they are made with a uniform plastic. Sharma explained that products that are made of more complex polymer blends, such as cellphone cases, “pile up at recycling centers and eventually end up being incinerated or sent to landfills” due to the lack of safe and efficient ways to recycle them.

Currently, the most efficient method for this process involves a chemical called DCM that releases carcinogenic vapors in conditions close to room temperature. The method created by Sharma and Chandrasekaran uses a solvent called NMP, which Chandrasekaran assured, “will only release vapors when heated to 180 degrees Celsius, far above the temperature needed to dissolve the polymers.”

ISTC isn’t the only organization committed to reducing plastic waste.

thousands of bottle caps inside a rubber tire. someone's dirty hands are sorting the capsSanjeev Das, Global Packaging Director at Unilever, announced that through a partnership with Ioniqa, a start-up company in the Netherlands, they have found a way to recycle any kind of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) plastic. By using this new technology, they are able to break down the PET plastic to the molecular level, remove any colors or impurities, and turn it back into clear food-grade PET plastic.

While not available yet, Das estimates the technology could be ready for widespread use by the third quarter of 2019. He believes this technology can revolutionize the plastic recycling industry. By bringing value to PET waste, people and communities all over the world will be motivated to collect plastic, creating a circular economy.

In a commitment to sustainability, Nestle pledged to make all of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025. Nestle CEO Mark Schneider stated, “plastic waste is one of the biggest sustainability issues the world is facing today. Tackling it requires a collective approach.”

There are smaller steps companies can take to reduce plastic waste and encourage sustainable habits. Coffee giant Starbucks offers a discount to customers who bring in reusable mugs and has been doing so since 1985. Urbana-Champaign coffee chain Espresso Royale offers a similar discount. Retailers such as Target, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s offer discounts for bringing in your own reusable shopping bags.

While the best option for eliminating plastic waste is to reduce our reliance on single use products, plastic use is so heavily engrained in our culture that we might never phase it out completely. These scientific advances in plastic recycling pave the way for a future where there is minimal, if any, plastic waste.

State Electronics Challenge Recognizes ISTC as a 2017 Gold Award Winner

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) has received a Gold Award for its achievements in the State Electronics Challenge (SEC)–a comprehensive nationwide environmental sustainability initiative that currently reaches more than 223,000 employees in 39 states. ISTC was recognized for its accomplishments in green purchasing, energy conservation, and responsible recycling of electronic office equipment in 2017.

 

SEC Gold level recognition certificate for ISTC in 2017 calendar year, displayed in frame made of repurposed circuit boards

“The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center is truly an outstanding example of a commitment to environmental leadership,” commented Lynn Rubinstein, SEC Program Manager. “This is the fourth year in a row that ISTC has earned a Gold Award.”  She added that “ISTC is one of only 16 organizations nationally being recognized this year and the only one in Illinois.”

 

“We’re honored to have received this recognition, and value our participation in the SEC program,” said Joy Scrogum, ISTC Sustainability Specialist and coordinator for its Sustainable Electronics Initiative and Illini Gadget Garage projects. “The guidance and resources available through the SEC were very helpful in creating ISTC’s policy on purchasing, use, and disposal of IT equipment. They also create a useful framework for discussing operational changes in terms of these lifecycle phases for electronics with ISTC’s own technical assistance clients. Even though public entities and non-profits are the types of organizations which may participate in the SEC, I often refer other types of organizations to the Program Requirements Checklist for a simple guide to best practices. I’d love to see more units at the University of Illinois join the SEC, and in general see more participants in the state of Illinois.”

 

The State Electronics Challenge offers its participants annual opportunities to document their achievements and receive recognition for those accomplishments.  In 2017, the reported actions of 31 participants in green purchasing of electronic office equipment, power management, and responsible reuse and recycling:

  • Prevented the release of 5,503,212 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. This reduction in greenhouse gases is equivalent to the annual emissions from 1,163,470 passenger cars.
  • Saved enough energy to supply almost 5,000 homes per year .
  • Avoided the disposal of hazardous waste equivalent to the weight of 1,258 refrigerators.
  • Avoided the disposal of solid waste – garbage – equivalent to the amount generated by more than 750 households/year.

A full list of winners and their environmental accomplishments can be found on the State Electronics Challenge website (www.stateelectronicschallenge.net).

 

“The State Electronics Challenge provides state, tribal, regional and local agencies, as well as schools, colleges and universities and non-profit organizations with a great opportunity to integrate concepts of sustainability and waste reduction into their operations,” added Ms. Rubinstein.  “It’s inspiring to see programs such as this one developed and implemented ISTC to ensure that the highest environmental practices are met through the lifecycle of office equipment.”

 

The State Electronics Challenge awards were made possible through donations from Samsung and the R2/RIOS Program.

 

About the State Electronics Challenge

The State Electronics Challenge assists state, regional, tribal, and local governments to reduce the environmental impact of their office equipment.  It annually recognizes the accomplishments of Partner organizations. The Challenge is administered by the Northeast Recycling Council (www.nerc.org). Currently, 168 state, tribal, regional, colleges, schools, universities, and local government agencies, and non-profit organizations, representing more than 223,000 employees, have joined the SEC as Partners.  For more information on the SEC, including a list of current Partner organizations, visit www.stateelectronicschallenge.net.

Green is the New Gold – Olympics Sustainability

WRITTEN BY: Katherine Gardiner, ISTC staff

 

olympic rings logoWhenever you think of sustainability, the Olympic Games, with all its grandeur and flashy ceremonies, probably is not the first event that comes to mind. All it takes is a second look, though, and you’ll see that sustainability is central to the Olympics.

 

This year, the Olympics are being held in PyeongChang, South Korea.  The PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic Games (POCOG) has integrated sustainability into all stages of its Games – from construction of the venues, to the athletes’ and fans’ experiences and the legacy the Games will leave.

 

There are 92 countries and over 2,900 athletes participating in the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, up from 88 nations in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. That is a lot of people and it is not even counting the enthusiastic fans pouring in from each nation.

 

It can be a challenge to host so many travelers at once, knowing they will only stay temporarily.  POCOG has managed this by constructing an Olympic Village to accommodate the athletes and coaches, and once the Games are over, the Village will be used as condominiums. All the condo units were sold  months before the Olympics even started, guaranteeing the Village will be in use long after the athletes have left the city.

 

The Olympic-sized stadiums have also been developed with green infrastructure and eventual repurposing in mind.  POCOG constructed all six new venues to conform to South Korea’s green energy certification standards, G-SEED. The venues utilize solar, wind, and geothermal energy and POCOG repurposed land previously used as a landfill to build the Ice Hockey Arena. After the Games, the arenas will be used for multipurpose sports complexes to accommodate professional athletic training as well as culture, leisure, and sports activities for the public.

 

POCOG’s sustainability report outlines a goal to go beyond “zero emissions” and accomplish “O2 Plus” effects through “low-carbon operations and resource circulation.”  As of September 2017, 1.33 million tons of greenhouse gases were reduced or offset.  To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mass transit transportation has been encouraged. Personal vehicles cannot enter the venues, which encourages fans to park off-site and ride the shuttle.  The high-speed railway was also built to connect Incheon International Airport in Seoul to the venues in PyeongChang and Gangneung. Staff will use electric cars and hydrogen-powered cars during the Games. As a result, charging stations have been installed, which POCOG hopes will encourage locals to use electric cars.

 

To further reduce carbon emissions, POCOG is locally sourcing much of their food and introducing an electronic meal voucher system for Olympic staff for the first time in Olympic history, with the intent to prepare exactly the amount of food needed and avoid food waste.

 

POCOG even accounted for stewardship of nature in their planning. A combined Men’s and Women’s alpine ski course has been implemented for the first time in the Winter Olympics to reduce estimated forest impact. Plants, seeds, and topsoil have been collected to assist in the restoration process post-Games, and 174 hectares of forest have been pledged to be restored. A project to repopulate endangered species in the area has been implemented to maintain biodiversity, and nine additional forests have been designated as protected since 2013.

 

The PyeongChang Olympics was awarded ISO 20121 certification to recognize its work system that “minimizes burden on local communities while maximizing positive impacts,” marking a first for the Winter Olympics and third for Olympic Games after London 2012 and Rio 2016.

 

olympic gold metal with white backgroundThe International Olympic Committee (IOC) has aligned itself with POCOG’s vision for a sustainable Olympics. Olympic Agenda 2020 is made up of three pillars – credibility, youth, and sustainability.  In fact, the field of sports was officially recognized as an “important enabler” of sustainable development by the United Nations in 2015 and is included in the UN’s Agenda 2030.

 

While South Korea doesn’t know its final medal count yet, PyeongChang has definitely earned gold in being green.

Sustainability: A Force for Good in our Galaxy

WRITTEN BY: Katherine Gardiner ISTC staff

 

You may have heard that a new Star Wars movie came out last week. If you haven’t had a chance to see it yet, don’t worry, we won’t spoil it for you. But it got us thinking about sustainability in the Star Wars universe.

 

Yes, it was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But are there lessons, and warnings in the story for us? On one end of the sustainability spectrum there are the Ewoks, who live respectfully off the land and use their resources wisely. On the other end of the spectrum there’s the Death Star, which destroys entire planets just to show off its power. Generally speaking, folks in our world fall somewhere in between.

 

recycling is not just for jawas!The Ewoks’ Forest Moon of Endor sustained them in their happy lifestyle. But what happened on Tatooine, where Anakin and Luke grew up? Environmentally it took a wrong turn at some point, reminding us of droughts and wildfires growing more common in California and across the country.

 

Habitat preservation is important if we want our world to remain habitable for generations to come. On Tatooine, they acknowledged the scarcity of water on their planet and relied heavily on moisture farms. One predicted effect of climate change here on earth is altered weather patterns, leading to a shift in agricultural growing zones. In the Midwest, we love our corn and soybean farms. No one wants to replace this valuable facet of our economy with moisture farms, which use moisture vaporators to pull water from the humidity in the air, just to have access to clean water. If avoiding the effects of climate change means reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, count me in.

 

C-3PO, rebuilt by young Anakin Skywalker from scrap parts, demonstrates the value of reusing resources and recycling. Han Solo and Chewbacca also repaired and refurbished the legendary Millennium Falcon many times rather than scrapping it for a new starship. The electronics and machinery repair in Star Wars is inspiring, as we have so much electronic waste in our society today. To learn how to reuse, recycle, and repair your electronics, visit the Illini Gadget Garage, or check what repair resources are available in your community.

 

You may be wondering what fuel these spaceships used to travel such great distances – let’s hope they didn’t have to deal with inflated gas prices around the holidays! The Millennium Falcon and other standard starships use different sorts of fuels, commonly Rhydonium, mined on the planet Abafar. According to Wookieepedia, the Millennium Falcon used hypermatter to go into hyperdrive and reach lightspeed. While we’re not sure about the sustainability of using hypermatter, we do know about at least one renewable energy source in the Star Wars universe.

 

As part of Jedi training, younglings were sent to the Crystal Caves of Ilum to mine kyber crystals for their lightsabers. Kyber crystals, while rare, are inexhaustible sources of energy as their power does not diminish over time. These crystals are used to power lightsabers as well as the Death Star’s planet-destroying superlaser — I guess both the light- and dark-sides appreciate renewable energy!

 

When we look to our own world we can see renewable energy sources such as wind and solar on the rise. Innovations in these areas include printable solar panels, floating wind turbines, and sustainable lighting that help fight mosquito infestations.

 

Ah, Star Wars…. A fictional story perhaps it may be. But, teach us much about how to keep our light in the galaxy it can.

 

Recycling in America Goes Home, But Can it Go BIG?

2017 Illinois Sustainable Award winners recycle
Recycling was the number one achievement of 2017 Illinois Sustainability Award Winners.

Happy America Recycles Day!

This annual upbeat reminder that “we use too much, buy too much, and toss too much” shines a light on a society that more and more gets it.

At our homes and schools, the interest and the opportunities for recycling keep growing, slowly. Here in Champaign, IL, two collection events this year gathered 146 tons of electronics for recycling.

But as much as we waste at home — over-consuming our disposable goods — that is a small fraction of the estimated volume of non-household waste (i.e. industrial, manufacturing, commercial, construction, mining, etc.).

A new analysis of winners of the 2017 Illinois Sustainability Award suggests many of those big players get it too. The number one sustainability initiatives by ISA winners was for waste reduction. When AbbVie took down three buildings on its North Chicago campus they wasted nothing. All of the metal was recycled and all of the masonry and concrete was crushed for current and future use.

illinois sustainability award winnerCaterpillar, Inc. knows big. When its Surface Mining and Technology site in Decatur committed to a Zero Landfill goal, they created a by-product catalog, devising a “plan for every waste.” The result has been an average recycling rate in the 90s.

Dynamic Manufacturing Inc. in Melrose Park is in a recycling business of sorts. They restore used automotive transmissions and torque converters for reuse “as-new.” By installing a solvent recovery system, they now recycle 35,000 gallons for reuse on-site rather than transporting it for disposal.

What was number two? Maybe better news – process upgrades, optimization, and planning. These achievements eliminate waste before it exists. Here is where sustainable supply chains, sustainable product design, and better packaging open doors to easier recycling and hopes of a circular economy.

The third most prevalent achievement leading to a 2017 Illinois Sustainability Award was community involvement. That brings us back home. These companies value recycling and that is reinforced by employees and their communities. Marion automotive parts maker Aisin Manufacturing Illinois purchased four collection trailers for the Recycle Williamson County program. Caterpillar in Decatur encourages its employees to reduce waste and recycle by donating all recycling proceeds to local charities and agencies, also nominated by those workers.

That’s a Happy America Recycles Day.

Symposium to explore solutions to plastic recycling in Illinois

Written by Jim Dexter

multi colored plastic beads

 

Ideas for “Revitalizing Plastics Recycling” will be the topic for a symposium hosted by the Illinois Recycling Association and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at the I Hotel and Conference Center on the University of Illinois campus from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12.

 

Plastic production has risen steeply decade upon decade in the United States, primarily for use in packaging, and as a cheap, tough, lightweight substitute for glass and metal.

 

Ironically glass and metal are far more economical to recycle, so used plastic has come to blight the environment. The U.N. Environmental Program estimates that the U.S. recycled only nine percent of its post-consumer plastic in 2012. The program also reports that up to 43 percent of waste plastic finds its way into landfills. That leaves a lot of plastic unaccounted for.

 

Factors that make plastic easy or hard to recycle depends largely on logistics in the local recycling market, according to B.K. Sharma, senior research scientist at ISTC, a division of the Prairie Research Institute, and one of the presenters at the symposium.

 

Take polyethylene, for instance, which comes in two varieties – high density or low density, according to Sharma. If it is extruded (as in disposable drink bottles) it can usually be economically crushed, handled, and transported. If polyethylene products are molded they are typically too dense and/or brittle for a recycler to profitably manipulate. Expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) is another example of a hard-to-recycle plastic. All volume and no weight, it is expensive to transport and few communities today offer opportunities to recycle it, Sharma explained.

 

Ken Santowski’s Chicago Logistic Service has been working to provide Styrofoam recycling to citizens of the greater Chicago area. He will speak at the symposium of his company’s success in dealing with that necessary evil.

 

The symposium will also deal with another scourge of plastic recycling – agricultural plastics. It wraps bales, covers forage, bags silage, covers silo bunkers, and makes farmers more productive in many ways. But once used it doesn’t all go easily into dumpsters and is too lightweight to make much economic sense to conventional recyclers. Tanner Smith, corporate development analyst for Delta Plastics, will discuss dealing with agricultural plastics at the symposium.

 

Sharma’s lab has approached the problem from a different angle. He has demonstrated how petroleum-derived polymers can be “reverse engineered” right back into gasoline, diesel, and even jet fuel. He has also shown how high-value “fractions” can be recovered from trash that might have ended up in landfills. He will be giving a demonstration at the symposium of the technology which can be used to convert plastics to oil.

 

The symposium will bring together experts on different aspects of the problem and share solutions on how to improve Illinois’ experience and record of plastic recycling. To register, and for more information about the symposium visit the Illinois Recycling Association’s website.

 

Illinois Sustainable Technology Center logo

Illinois Recycling Association logo

Death by Design Screening, August 22 at Champaign Public Library

On Tuesday, August 22, the Illini Gadget Garage will be hosting a screening of the documentary Death by Design at the Champaign Public Library. Doors will open at 6:30 PM and the film will begin at 7:00. The film duration is 73 minutes.

 

The Illini Gadget Garage is a repair center that helps consumers with “do-it-together” troubleshooting and repair of minor damage and performance issues of electronics and small appliances. The project promotes repair as a means to keep products in service and out of the waste stream. The Illini Gadget Garage is coordinated by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center.

 

Death by Design explores the environmental and human costs of electronics, particularly considering their impacts in the design and manufacture stages, bearing in mind that many electronic devices are not built to be durable products that we use for many years. Cell phones, for example, are items that consumers change frequently, sometimes using for less than 2 years before replacing with a new model. When we analyze the effort put into, and potential negative impacts of, obtaining materials for devices through efforts like mining, the exposure to potentially harmful substances endured by laborers in manufacturing plants, and the environmental degradation and human health risks associated with informal electronics recycling practices in various parts of the word, the idea that we might see these pieces of technology as “disposable” in any way becomes particularly poignant. For more information on the film, including reviews, see http://deathbydesignfilm.com/about/  and
http://bullfrogfilms.com/catalog/dbd.html. You can also check out the trailer at the end of this post.

 

After the film, there will be a brief discussion and Q&A session facilitated by Joy Scrogum, Sustainability Specialist from the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) and project coordinator for the Illini Gadget Garage. UI Industrial Design Professor William Bullock will also participate in the panel discussion; other panelists will be announced as they are confirmed. Professor Bullock is also an adviser for the Illini Gadget Garage project; see more about IGG advisers at http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/meet-the-advisers/.  Check the IGG web site calendar and Facebook page for room details and panelist announcements.

 

Admission to this public screening is FREE, but donations are suggested and appreciated to support future outreach and educational efforts of the Illini Gadget Garage. See http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/donate/donation-form/ to make an online donation and http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/ for more information on the project.

Bullfrog Films presents…DEATH BY DESIGN from Bullfrog Films on Vimeo.