Spectrum Logo
A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Bechtel explains recycling program changes at VTR

By Jill Elswick

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 08 - October 16, 1997

The bare-bones maintenance offices in the campus police building are awash in dull colors of grey and yellow. Rows of lockers, a simple break area, huge ceiling ducts, and cement floors present a Spartan work environment.
But Larry Bechtel, head of Virginia Tech's recycling efforts, thrives here. "I like it. It's practical. It keeps my mind on work."
Work has been hectic lately. Paper recycling has grown significantly. Bechtel credits the Hokie community: "I do want to say thanks to everyone. It wouldn't happen if it weren't for the concern of everyone on campus."
Paper recycling has picked up so much that Bechtel nixed styrofoam collection.
Sound bad?
"It's really a good thing for the recycling program as a whole," Bechtel said.
Recycling companies pay for materials by the ton. Since white paper and cardboard weigh a lot more than styrofoam, they are more economical to recycle. With white paper alone paying $60 a ton, it has become the primary money-maker for Virginia Tech Recycling.
On a typical weekday, VTR collects 1,000 pounds of cardboard and between 2,000 and 4,000 pounds of paper. About 200 pounds of cans and bottles are collected each Wednesday and Friday. Scrap metal accounts for about one-third of revenues.
All revenues go back into the recycling effort--to purchase recycling bins, labels, and publicity.
Bechtel is proud of his in-house crew of 11. Each weekday, the crew is responsible for collecting Tech's recyclables from three roll-off locations at Dietrick, Schultz, and Derring halls. Bechtel's crew also disposes of all the campus trash.
Increasing staff efficiency helped Bechtel's decision to cut styrofoam collection in favor of paper: "I try to make the best use of the staff that I have and make it count for the most. Weight counts."
Student offenders sentenced to community service on campus often end up working with collection crews or assisting in special request pick-ups. In appreciation of these debtors to society, Bechtel says, "Bring `em to me. I love `em. I always put `em to work."
One aspect of campus recycling has gotten easier lately. With the innovation of co-mingling, Tech's metal and glass can now be collected together.
Co-mingling may sound like it adds an extra step to the recycling process, but it is actually desirable. "I have people call me about that," Bechtel said. "They feel we have taken a step backwards. I'd like to reassure everyone that that's not the case. The processing center is capable of sorting, and it makes the quality monitoring much simpler."
The real thorn in VTR's side is contamination--when inappropriate things are thrown in with recyclables. At the cost of much time and labor, these non-recyclable items have to be picked out one-by-one.
"Plastic transparencies are the most aggravating item," Bechtel said. "These are hard to catch for anyone, but a whole lot easier to catch for the person who is doing the recycling." Colored pieces of paper mixed in with white paper are also a problem.
Recycling centers charge a fee for contamination. If the contamination is particularly bad, materials will not be recycled at all but sent to a landfill which charges $53 for each ton's disposal.
Bechtel urged everyone to read the information posted at recycling points about what is and is not acceptable to toss in the bin. "Hokie cyclers"--cardboard containers about the size of a waste basket for separating white paper, mixed paper, and newspaper--are also available for anyone who wants one. The containers are convenient for desk-side recycling.
"Give me a call, it won't cost a thing," Bechtel said.
Bechtel's commitment to keeping Tech's recyclables uncontaminated is so strong that he does not hesitate to climb into a "clean mixed-paper only" front-load box (one of those large metal recycling containers many people mistake for dumpsters) to retrieve a plastic spoon and a sticky ice-cream sundae cup.
A lesser, but still aggravating, problem is unrinsed soda cans. The sugary residue inside the cans attract bees. An allergic worker was stung recently by a yellowjacket and had to take off work for several days.
But in spite of its problems, Tech's recycling program is thriving. The Tom's Creek Basin Facility shows Bechtel's commitment to recycling in the broadest sense--the restoration of natural resources.
The facility includes a sanitary (no-trash) landfill, where Bechtel has initiated restoring the topsoil, planting trees and wildflowers, composting campus leaves, and mulching campus brush. Trees will eventually hide the whole area if he has his way.
Bechtel's goal is to "heal the wounds" of the land as soon as possible. It gives him satisfaction to see a bird or a muskrat on the 20-acre facility's pond. He saw an indigo bunting there recently.
Bechtel said Virginia Tech's recycling program has two purposes: "The first is to do our best to create a better world, and the second purpose is more pragmatic, to cut disposal costs."
Virginia Tech Recycling's web page is located at http://www.vt.edu:10021/vtrecycle/index.html. For more information, or to request a Hokie cycler, call Larry Bechtel at 1-9915 or e-mail him at lbechtel@vt.edu.