Blue +Green = Teal WITH THE SEAHAWKS
EVERY school in the UNC system has a sustainability mandate,
and UNCW takes the challenge seriously. Recycling Coordinator
Feletia Lee and her team continually innovate, not just to make
campus operations more eco-friendly, but also to give the greater
Wilmington community access to supplemental resources.
The UNCW Recycling Depot on Lionfish Drive is tucked away on the
campus, but its recycling bins are available to the general public 24/7. In
addition to all the materials collected by county services, UNCW’s recycling
program accepts plastic bags including zip tops, aerosol cans, electronics
including string lights, polystyrene (aka Styrofoam), and #5 plastics.
By working with third-party recyclers, UNCW is able to reduce landfill use
as well as generate funds to put back into the campus recycling program.
Polystyrene foam is made of a little bit of plastic and a lot of air, which is
why it’s so light and a popular packaging material. That’s also the reason it’s
not cost effective for most recyclers to process it. The UNCW team uses a
machine called a thermal densifier to heat and compress polystyrene items
such as packing peanuts, egg cartons, and foam coolers into hard blocks
of solid plastic. A manufacturer buys the plastic blocks and turns them into
things like picture frames and construction material.
Another manufacturer buys bales of plastic film (#4 plastic). This includes
grocery bags, plastic bubble mailers, clean plastic wrap, and zip-top bags.
The manufacturer turns the material into benches, trash cans, and composite
“lumber” used for decking, among many other things.
The most common wish-cycled items are probably polypropylene
(#5) plastics — things like yogurt cups, plastic cutlery, takeout containers,
and bottle lids. These items look and feel like #1 and #2 plastics, so most
people assume they can go right in the bin for
curbside pickup. Unfortunately, Sonoco, the
company most local municipalities contract
with, doesn’t process #5 plastics
As of 2021, UNCW Recycling is collecting #5
plastics, which a regional manufacturer will
recycle into raw material to be used in a variety
of goods like reusable water bottles, food
containers, and toys. Polypropylene can even
be made into thread for clothing.
Plastic ingots are created by running expanded polystyrene foam, like packing peanuts and egg cartons, through a thermal densifier at the UNCW
PHOTOS BY ALLISON POTTER
april 2021 22