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White-Paper Recycling Good Idea

By Larry Bechtel recycling coordinator/solid waste manager,

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 22 - February 29, 1996

Virginia Tech Recycling (VTR) would like to remind all faculty and staff members of the importance of paper recycling. Nationally, paper and paperboard products comprise the single largest component of the municipal solid-waste stream; in 1993, this amounted to 37.6 percent, or 77.8 million tons.

At Virginia Tech, the percentage of paper in the waste stream is even higher. In fact, in most offices nearly all "trash" is recyclable paper. Furthermore, most of this paper is the high-quality, white office paper designated as sorted white ledger (SWL) in the business. This high-quality SWL is the single best source of revenue for the recycling program.

While we remain concerned with the issues of environmental pollution and degradation and the depletion of natural resources, it is also important to realize that recycling has moved beyond simple, informal enviro-activism to become a mainstream solid-waste management technique supplying an alternative feedstock to industry. However, it is a technique subject to the laws of supply and demand. And market conditions, particularly for paper, are unstable.

Paper prices rise and fall, sometimes drastically. For example, Virginia Tech earned $80 per ton for corrugated cardboard in May, 1995. This rose to $100 per ton in June, fell to $60 per ton in July, $10 per ton in September, and dropped to $0 in October.

The market for white office paper has remained fairly stable for the past several months. We have earned $60 per ton each month since October. From November to January we collected 55,220 pounds of white office paper for a revenue of $1,656.60.

The recent slump in mixed-paper markets provoked the Montgomery County Solid Waste Authority to charge a $33 per ton processing fee, beginning in December 1995. While we have never received any revenue for mixed paper, recycling remains the best method for handling it, both for environmental and monetary reasons. This is still significantly cheaper than placing the paper in the landfill as waste at $53 per ton.

Tight paper-market conditions underscore the need to recycle according to the guidelines. We can only recycle what is salable, so please follow the guidelines and use common sense. Plastic transparencies and the plastic tabs and metal rods from hanging file folders are non-recyclable as paper. If you are uncertain about any recycling guideline or procedure, please call the VTR office at 1-9915, write to us at lbechtel@vt.edu or kayoung4@vt.edu, or check the VTR homepage: http://www.vt.edu:10021/vtrecycle.

When you have white paper to dispose of, you are basically faced with three choices: you can throw it in the regular trash, you can throw it in the mixed-paper bin (along with your other paper), or you can put it in the white-paper recycling bin. Consider the consequences of your choice. If you throw it in the trash can, you contribute to filling the landfill, shrinking our natural resources and costing the university a $53-per-ton disposal fee.

If you fail to separate your white paper from your mixed, you contribute to a $33-per-ton processing fee while missing the opportunity to earn revenue for the university. However, if you put it in the white-paper recycling bin, you save the university disposal fees, earn revenue, and help save natural resources. Paper recycling is so easy. Don't miss your opportunity to do your part for your university, your community, and your world.

Note: "Hokie Cyclers" are available from Central Stores at $2.02 each. Designed for use at individual work stations, Hokie Cyclers have divisions for mixed, white and newspaper. The boxes are printed with all paper-recycling guidelines. Also, paper containing 100-percent recycled material is available at Central Stores for $3 per ream. It is a little bit duller than standard white office paper (containing 20-percent recycled material), but it is fine for office use. One hundred-percent recycled paper should be placed in the mixed paper recycling bin after use.