This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

Meet your new trash can

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UCLA's new single-stream recycling program allows Bruins to recycle virtually everything but food. Paired clusters of trash-and-recycling cans are cropping up around campus to make it easier to divert waste from landfills.
UCLA's new single-stream recycling program allows Bruins to recycle virtually everything but food. Paired clusters of trash-and-recycling cans are cropping up around campus to make it easier to divert waste from landfills.
This year for Earth Day, Bruins were greeted with shiny new … trash cans?
 
Ah, but these trash cans come with a Siamese twin: a voracious recycling can that encourages Bruins to toss in virtually everything but their food.
 
Members of the Recycling Action Research Team, clockwise from top left: Thomas Gordon, Chris Meehan, Kaya Foster, Patricia Guzman.
Members of the Recycling Action Research Team crouch around a new recycling cluster. Clockwise from top left: Thomas Gordon, Chris Meehan, Kaya Foster, Patricia Guzman.
The twins are the stars of UCLA's new single-stream recycling program – no more sorting soda cans, plastic bottles, newspapers and glass into separate bins. It’s simple: Waste with food on it goes into the trash bin, while, thanks to advances in recycling and sorting, virtually everything else – Styrofoam, plastic cups, cardboard, crumb-free paper plates – gets tossed in another trash bin along with the cans and glass bottles.
 
The initial rollout of 90 clusters was a joint project of Facilities Management and an energetic student team that surveyed staff, faculty and students to decide issues like how many cans to install and how to word the signage. Another 45 clusters will be installed soon, with the goal of having one recycling bin for every trash can on campus.
 
"The first day was incredibly successful," said Chris Meehan, one of two leaders on the student team. "From our preliminary audit of looking in recycling and trash bins, it seems the amount of recycling has increased exponentially." The students are part of an Action Research Team class at UCLA that allows them to take on environmental projects to change the campus.
 
The new recycling was one component of UCLA's Earth Day program, said Sustainability Coordinator Nurit Katz. An Earth Day Fair attracted about 400 people, and a game requiring fair-goers to get raffle "passports" stamped after completing learning activities at 10 booths attracted 250 attendees, she said. The single-stream recycling program is also expected to help UCLA reduce the amount of trash it sends to landfills.
 
"The students saw the recycling bins fill up while the trash cans stayed virtually empty," Katz said. "That's exactly what we need."
 
Sustainability Coordinator Nurit Katz, center, at this year's Earth Day Fair.
Sustainability Coordinator Nurit Katz, center, at this year's Earth Day Fair. Students Becky Miller, left, and Sarah Mier, right, were the lead student organizers of the Earth Day fair.
The clusters reflect changes in recycling technology that may require some additional education, Katz said. A frequently asked questions page on the sustainability website helps answer tricky questions, such as whether a bottle with a little soda still in it can be recycled (Answer: Yes – just pour as much liquid as you can into the trash before recycling the container).
 
"People still have questions about how much food waste is too much for the recycling bin," Katz explained. "Almost everything is recyclable except for stuff that's heavily contaminated. A Styrofoam coffee cup with drops of coffee? No problem. A pizza box with grease? Good to go. A pizza box dripping with cheese? Not so much. Recyclables with little bits of food particles can go in safely. Heavy food contamination can't."
 
UCLA's departments of Transportation and Recreation are also rolling out something new: 17 bikes. In honor of Earth Day, campus departments that can show that their employees would use a bike to cut down on local car trips could win a free bike in the next few weeks, said Michael King, Transportation's bike coordinator and a planning analyst.
 
"This will help reduce midday trips and greenhouse gases while also improving people's health," King said. "We call it 'active sustainability.' It's a double whammy of getting healthy while going green."
 
Seven departments received bikes two years ago in a pilot program, and other departments have been asking for the program to be revived, King said. Interested departments should e-mail King at mking@ts.ucla.edu before the bikes are rolled out in the next few weeks. 
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