MSU’s New Clean Cardboard Initiative

Published On: June 4, 2018

When new recycling initiatives reduce the university’s ecological footprint and save the university money, you can bet that makes everyone happy. The most recent initiative to fall under these categories was led by Sean Barton, operations manager at MSU Recycling, who formulated an idea to overhaul the way MSU separates plastic and cardboard recycled material.

The innovative concept, coined the Clean Cardboard Initiative, calls for sorting and separating cardboard and plastic in the residence halls before it arrives to the campus recycling facility. This, in the long haul, is good for the environment and saves time, energy and money. The initiative kicked off with a Pilot Study in Brody Neighborhood and is now making its way to North Neighborhood.

“Market fluctuations have made us separate cardboard from plastic in every building except RHS areas,” noted Barton in an email to North Neighborhood team members. At just a few weeks into the process, Barton was happy to announce, “So far, we’ve saved one day of sort time for our entire Material Recovery Facility staff!”

Recycling one ton of cardboard is worth $180, making it MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center’s most valuable product. On the other hand, plastic actually costs $40 per ton to recycle, losing the university money the plant otherwise relies on for truck maintenance, gasoline, the building’s mortgage and more.

With the new initiative, the time gained from no longer sorting the materials at the Recycling Center can be used to sort plastic, which results in a purer, higher-value product. It also allows for less cross-contamination.

“Separating the cardboard and plastic results in much cleaner cardboard that is not contaminated with food and the other liquids from plastic collection,” Barton said.

Sixteen carts were recently delivered to North Neighborhood residence halls, allowing for two carts to sit at each loading dock where recycling is collected. Once the bins were placed by facilities, the Clean Cardboard Initiative was in full swing.

“For us, it’s minimal in terms of what we have to do differently,” Hornburg said. “It was an easy fix. It’s just a concern of changing habits of our employees, because the bulk of the material comes from Culinary [where much food contamination can be avoided in sorting].”

Looking forward, it’s a collective goal to have all residence halls and neighborhoods on board with the Clean Cardboard Initiative by the start of the fall 2018 semester.