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Rebel Recycling Program Nears 1,000 Tons at 20th Anniversary

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UNLV’s Rebel Recycling program has a goal to recycle 1,000 tons of material this year to celebrate its 20th anniversary.

They are projected to reach that milestone on July 1, and every pound has been under Tara Pike. Pike started the program when she was an undergraduate at UNLV as her undergraduate senior thesis topic.

Last year the program recycled 935 tons of material, and this year the goal is 1,000 tons.

Between 2003 and 2008, the UNLV Rebel Recycling program recycled 3,484.5 tons of materials. Recycled paper and fiber, which includes cardboard, paper and books was 2,845.5 tons. The diversion of these materials from the Apex landfill impacted the environment by saving, 48,373.5 40-foot fir trees, 19,918,500 gallons of water, 170,730 pounds of prevented air pollution, 8,536.5 cubic yards of landfill space and 11,672,241 kilowatt hours of energy. Reduce, reuse and recycle is the mission of UNLV’s rebel recycling program.

“We need everyone to help us get to 1,000 tons,” Pike said.

The newest addition to the program was adding plastic foam to the list of materials that can be recycled. It does not include plastic foam plates or cups, but includes the big blocks of plastic foam that are used as packing materials.

About 11 students work at the recycling center, as well as three interns. There are volunteers from Shine City Project. UNLV is responsible for cleaning up Sam Boyd Stadium and Shine City Projects has been helping for a few years.

Service learning volunteers are part of a class that comes from the tourism and convention administration program. About 60 volunteer during the spring, while 100 students help in the fall.

The recycling center has a specific route on campus to pick up the waste and materials that can be recycled. If it is a large building they will pick up two or three times a week, and smaller buildings are collected once a week.

There are 45 cardboard dumpsters that are emptied daily. They also collect materials from the dental school, the Paradise campus, the Desert Research Institute and the EPA. Food waste collections are done twice a day, Monday through Friday. This includes pickup from the Student Union, the Dining Commons and PODS.  The student recycling bins are done on a schedule. Usually a full time position employee will collect those bins, but currently the position is not filled.

“We are always busy,” Pike said. “There is never not something to do around here.”

There are also hydration stations, which are a joint project between the recycling center and the plumbing shop. Pike has helped with the stations, but the plumbing shop is responsible for installing the stations and changing the filters.

Take Back the Tap is a group of students that also have input for future hydration stations, while also helping with fundraising and marketing.

Last year, UNLV won a hydration station through a nationwide texting contest through Food and Water Watch, an environmental organization based in Washington D.C.

One common problem the recycling center faces is students putting the wrong materials into the designated bins.

“It can get kind of messy,” Pike said.

Rebel Recycling Coordinator Tara Pike has been with the program since its inception in 1995. (Aaron Mayes/UNLV Photo Services)

Rebel Recycling Coordinator Tara Pike has been with the program since its inception in 1995. (Aaron Mayes/UNLV Photo Services)

Prior to June 11 the center had a partnership with A1 Organics, which has been in the organic recycling business since 1974. A1 Organics would take all of the organic materials, including food, napkins and foundation cups. They would then turn the materials into soil.

On June 11 there was a fire that destroyed the entire company, so now all of the materials are taken to a pig farm. Unfortunately, pigs don’t eat napkins, so UNLV has been forced to use waste bins.

UNLV used to have zero waste events, but now the recycling program is unable to do so. For the festival of communities they had to use one bin and sort through the materials afterwards.

“That is probably one of our biggest problems because we love doing zero waste events, but we are unable to do them because of this closure,” Pike said.

They are unsure if A1 organics will open again, but they hope they will one day and the partnership can continue.

The programs highest diversion rate was 96 percent that went to compost or recycling. On Feb. 28th, during a basketball game at the Thomas & Mack Center, there was an 86 percent diversion rate.

“We would like to divert more organic materials like paper products, but we don’t have the ability right now,” Pike said.

In 2003 UNLV got student indoor recycling bins. There are currently 11 outdoor recycling bins, but Pike would like to add more across campus. There are 250 outdoor trash cans. The problem is that the recycling bins are expensive and there are political issues to navigate in order to get more.

“Because I am so passionate about recycling I am always trying increase everything to get our hands on to divert it,” Pike said.

All the water bottles are taken to the solar powered compactor located at the recycling center, where Republic Services take it and sort it.

The campus community garden behind the recycling center will open in August, and will allow student groups to garden right on campus.

UNLV student Yuna Yi recycles whenever she is on campus because it is convenient. She is concerned with the amount of fast food containers students use during lunch. At home she does not recycle, because there is monthly fee.

She lived in Japan for a year and said that recycling was very important throughout the country.

“It became a habit to recycle every day in Japan that I didn’t even have to think to do it,” Yi said.

The Rebel Recycling program’s overall mission is to raise educational awareness, be a role model for the community, conserve water, reduce air pollution, conserve energy and to help support the Nevada state recycling goal of 25 percent.

The equipment used to make this all possible includes two double-wide trailers

two forklifts, a 5,000 pound pallet scale, a 16-foot box truck, four flat-bed utility carts, three collection trailers, 35 towable cardboard dumpsters, two storage containers, 21 indoor student recycling bins, outdoor student recycling bins, a horizontal baler and a vertical baler.

Special projects and community involvement events run by the recycling program include Earth Day and America Recycles Day events, tours and paper-making projects, residence hall move-in and move-out, Christmas tree recycling committee, Recyclemania, Vegoose music festival and recycling drive up and drop off.

Selyna Bermudez says her dad makes her recycle her soda cans and water bottles.

“My dad is super strict about recycling plastic,” Bermudez said.

She recycles on campus since she learned the difference between the bins, and now knows the correct materials to put in the bins.

According to UNLV’s Rebel Recycling program website, “Each year about 50 billion plastic bottles of drinking water are purchased in the United States, requiring the energy equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil – enough to fuel more than one million vehicles for a year and produce more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide.”

For the future the program hopes to continue to increase amount of materials collected and recycled, implement recycling in each new campus building and expand staff by one full-time person. They also hope to expand the collection of traditional recyclables to the UNLV residence halls, acquire enough outdoor student recycling bins, collect recycling from athletic and other UNLV sponsored special events and move into an indoor facility.

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