It’s everywhere. On containers, trash bins, mysterious white trucks that roam UCF at night. It’s in offices, dorms, on the Web, in the Student Union. It’s the UCF Recycles logo.
Students, faculty and guests see the logo across campus. However, very few get to see what’s behind this omnipresent reminder of UCF’s commitment to sustainability.
Brian Wormwood, assistant director of housekeeping & recycling services, knows exactly what happens to our beloved water bottles once thrust into the realm of the arrowed triangle.
The recycling czar heads a team of four groundskeepers, who work with Senior Superintendent of Maintenance Don Atkinson to coordinate the efforts of groundskeepers who work solely on the recycling program with those who are involved on a less regular basis.
UCF Recycles’ headquarters is located in the Physical Plant (recently renamed Facilities and Safety) – a large, gray, concrete building tucked away at the southernmost tip of campus next to the UCF Police Department.
The unassuming structure is home to everything from administrative offices to a mechanic repair shop and encompasses a large warehouse and, of course, UCF’s recycling center. It is here that recyclables are brought, transported in the back of those big white trucks.
Once the merchandise arrives, the sorting begins. Aluminum cans are dumped into a 4-foot-deep holding bay, where they remain until enough cans accumulate to be compacted into bails. Plastics and cardboard are also compacted into bails once enough material accumulates.
Aluminum cans and cardboard were some of the first things recycled at UCF, “back in the early ’90s, before my time here,” Wormwood said. Since then, when UCF’s recycling program was still known as KnightCycle, many more materials have been added to the recycling portfolio.
Besides plastic bottles, aluminum cans and cardboard, UCF currently recycles shrink wrap, scrap metal, wooden pallets, paper and even old refrigerators, according to Wormwood.
Looking toward the future, glass and Styrofoam are next on the list of materials to be recycled.
Space at the Physical Plant is limited, and every new material added to the “to collect” list adds pressure, so where does all the recycled material go from there? While some stays in Florida, a lot is actually exported overseas, Wormwood said.
Local companies serving as middlemen buy UCF’s recycled material, transport it to transfer centers and ports, and sell it to foreign “junk dealers” hungry for scrap. What sounds like a shady (not to mention smelly) business is actually common practice.
An economic recession has slowed down some recycling efforts.
“The market fell apart November-December last year,” Wormwood said. However, even before last year’s trash market crash, recycling wasn’t a very profitable business at UCF. “In 2008, we spent $100,000 on salaries but only earned $19,000 from scrap sales,” he said.
Depending on how fast the planet’s dwindling resources are exhausted, the profitability of recycling may change drastically.
“Sooner or later, when we run out of materials, recycling will be more profitable,” Wormwood said.
UCF Recycles has the potential to become profitable well before the last tree on the planet has been cut down to function as your midterm paper, however. According to Wormwood, the amount of material being recycled is increasing steadily, growing from 12.97 percent of total waste in the 2007-2008 academic year to 17.04 percent in the 2008-2009 academic year. The current academic year is running at around 25 percent, 5 percentage points short of a new Florida mandate requiring a 30 percent recycle rate for all government and state buildings.
Although UCF is on track to meet this requirement in the near future, Wormwood said he won’t be satisfied even when 30 percent is reached.
“A recent examination of UCF’s total waste found that 65 percent of all the material thrown away could have been recycled,” he said.
In the uphill battle to change people’s habits, Wormwood said he sometimes feels frustrated.
“I’m always picking stuff up after people,” he said.
Still, the university has come a long way, and the UCF Recycles program has strong support from the Student Government Association, which seeks to establish a culture of conservation on campus.
“SGA has been working incredibly hard to make sure that UCF becomes a cleaner, greener, more sustainable campus,” said Tracy Wilk, SGA environmental and sustainability specialist. “I hope to see the UCF Recycles program expand throughout the years since it provides such a concrete resource for students and helps our campus continue on its path toward sustainability,” she said.
Wormwood said he is optimistic about UCF students’ attitudes toward recycling.
“I’m excited about the future, because people are starting to pay attention to things I have a long time ago,” Wormwood said.
Source: Central Florida Future, Keeping campus clean, green, UCF Recycles reuses, reduces, by Marco Funk; Published: Sunday, December 6, 2009, Updated: Sunday, December 6, 2009