3 SUNY schools working to reduce waste, improve recycling

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ALBANY, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Three schools within the SUNY system are working on solutions to benefit local and statewide solid waste management and recycling solutions.

On Wednesday, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the University at Buffalo, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and Stony Brook University would focus on strategies to improve recycling and waste reduction while protecting the environment.

Recycling operations in the United States are struggling to find suitable markets for materials because of tightening import restrictions in Asia. That’s why the state Department of Environmental Conservation is working to address these challenges.

“With ongoing changes to worldwide recycling markets threatening our efforts to reduce waste and protect our resources, this new collaboration will tackle these challenges head-on and will help ensure New York’s legacy of environmental stewardship continues,” Governor Cuomo said. “We are working closely with some of our best academic institutions to develop strategies that will help make a cleaner, greener Empire State for all.” 

Nearly $12 million will go to the three schools to work on recycling initiatives.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “Governor Cuomo is helping our state continue to lead the nation in educating the public about the importance of reducing solid waste through reduction, reuse, and recycling. More work remains and DEC’s partnership with SUNY schools will help us address the challenges facing us today by ensuring all communities develop best practices to reduce the amount of solid waste generated, reuse material for its intended purpose, or recycle material that cannot be reused. By partnering with these SUNY schools, New York continues its sustainability efforts by advancing ambitious and proactive actions both now and into the future.”

Below is more about the partnerships with each school:

University at Buffalo

DEC entered into a $1.9 million partnership with the University at Buffalo with a two-fold objective. Research will focus on assessing the state of the plastics recycling market. Recent changes in recycling markets have made contamination in recycling streams a major issue, reducing the value of the materials being recycled. In order for recycling to continue as a viable industry, contamination must be reduced. Using data collected globally, researchers at UB will work with DEC to evaluate sorting technologies and assess potential costs and benefits to improve recycling infrastructure. In addition, researchers will examine different ways to reduce plastic use by finding more sustainable substitutes.

UB will also evaluate the effectiveness of single- versus multi-stream recycling and bottle deposit efforts, specifically as they relate to plastics contamination reduction. The second area of research focuses on behavioral science involving recycling outreach and education messaging and methods. Evaluating the messaging and mediums available to best advance education and outreach statewide is critical to reducing contamination, maintaining the value of recyclables, and efficiently and effectively using resources. These projects will be conducted over a two-year period.

UB’s Research and Education in Energy, Environment and Water (RENEW) Institute Director and SUNY Distinguished Professor Amit Goyal said“Prudent investments like this from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will ensure that New York State plays a leadership role that other communities nationwide can follow to make recycling programs more effective. With our multidisciplinary research team, UB’s RENEW Institute is uniquely positioned to provide solutions for the plastics recycling industry, which has been thrown into turmoil. We’re excited to work with the DEC on assessing and improving plastic recycling as well as outreach and educational programs.”

College of Environmental Science and Forestry

DEC entered into a five-year, $5.75-million partnership with SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse to help establish the New York State Center for Sustainable Materials Management at ESF. This investment will help develop a comprehensive plan to improve recycling and address market access challenges for recyclable materials. Local government recyclers are currently experiencing decreased recycling revenues and increased costs due to the lack of market access for collected materials. ESF’s work will also focus on waste prevention and reduction, as well as a comprehensive community outreach and public education campaign with direct stakeholder engagement led by its partner, Syracuse University. Other projects include the research and development of recycling alternatives for “non-recyclable fibrous materials” such as lower grade paper, including composting and conversion options. 

Officer-in-Charge at ESF Joseph L. Rufo said, “This Center will help reduce waste and reinvigorate the State’s recycling industry. As part of this effort, ESF will serve as a convener for a variety of related state-wide initiatives with efforts that are destined to be economic engines, creating far more jobs than landfills. A variety of ESF faculty, staff, and students will work hand-in-glove with the DEC, other SUNY campuses, Syracuse University, and other partners statewide. Ultimately, the goal is to transition this state Center into a national center when the time is right.”

Stony Brook University           

DEC entered into a $4.2 million partnership with Stony Brook University for projects that include solid waste characterization studies of recyclables and waste that analyze how these materials are processed to create more marketable materials. Through collaborations with multiple recycling facilities, university researchers, and DEC will work to determine the efficiency of current recycling programs across the state, as well as the types of materials remaining in the waste stream.

In addition to improving the understanding of various waste compositions, Stony Brook University will work on a user-friendly economic analysis tool for municipalities to determine the cost of recycling programs, conduct case studies on single-stream recycling, and analyze first order recycling and the circular economy. These projects will take place over a five-year period and will help DEC develop policies and other actions to support better materials management for New York State.

Co-PI and Research Associate Professor in the Department of Technology and Society at Stony Brook University David Tonjes, PhD., said, “Understanding what is in the wastes we collect is essential to determining how best to manage these materials. Describing the actual waste streams collected across New York State is an important first step to tuning our recycling programs to achieve sustainable materials management. We look forward to fruitful collaborations with municipalities across the State as we develop a better picture of what we currently recycle and what we still throw out. Our crew of enthusiastic student researchers worked hard on the initial sorting efforts we made last fall and early spring, and look forward to going back into the field when it is feasible to do so again.”

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