Office of Energy and Sustainability

Zero Waste

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, municipal solid waste landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the U.S., accounting for approximately 16 percent of these emissions in 2016. Methane gas is released as wastes decompose, and is one of several non-CO2 gases that contribute to global climate change. Emissions depend on the total amount and makeup of the wastes as well as the location, design, and practices of the waste management facility.

Generally, the production of waste represents the inefficient use of materials. Fortunately, recycling is a waste managemnt alternative to landfilling. The EPA is interested because gas emissions can be affected by recycling and changing product use. The production of new items is responsible for a large portion of global greenhouse emissions, so reducing consumption through reusing and recycling items can also help reduce emissions. For example, recycling office paper or aluminum can reduce the need to harvest trees or mine bauxite to produce aluminum, and it will also reduce emissions and energy consumption associated with making products from virgin materials.

Oberlin College works with both the City of Oberlin and Republic Services to recycle mixed paper, cardboard, mixed metals, and certain plastics. Republic sends some of the cardboard to South America, but most items are recycled domestically. 

Impact of Contamination

Contamination negatively affects the recycling process
  • Requires money and time to separate contaminants, which leads to an increase in operating costs
  • Slows down processes in recycling and sorting facilities
  • Makes the whole load of recycling unacceptable and it is sent to landfill, including the items that were recyclable
  • Ruin or damage equipment in recycling facilities
  • Decreases quality of recycled byproducts
  • Hazardous waste is dangerous for workers

In 2019, Republic Services implemented a contamination charge of $75/ton for every recycling load that contained more than 15 percent non-recyclable items. The City of Oberlin began paying this charge for about 65 percent of their deliveries. Contamination charges came to equal almost 41 percent of the city’s recycling charges. This made recycling four times more expensive than sending waste to the landfill. In order to make recycling financially feasible for Oberlin, we need to start checking our products and making sure they do not contaminate our recycling loads. 

Tips on making sure you don't contaminate
  • Double check what you put in the bin! 
  • Rinse recyclable food containers.
  • Keep plastic bags out of the recycling bin.
  • If it can get tangled, it’s not recyclable (garden, wire hangers, strings, lights).

Learn more about our recycling program

Learn more about composting and food waste