Category: Tufts Community News (page 2 of 40)

Plastics by the Numbers

Have you ever seen numbers on plastics and wondered what they mean?  There are hundreds of different types of plastics, with different properties, making them more flexible or ridged.

The numbers 1-7 on plastics indicate what type of plastic is used in your bottle, container, or shopping bag. Here’s a quick guide to knowing what these numbers really mean.

  1. Plastics labeled with a 1 are  PETE and are typically found in food or beverage bottles and are easily recyclable. PETE is most common for single-use items.
  2. Number 2 plastic is HDPE, which is used in clean product bottles. It is considered a safe plastic, because it doesn’t break down easily and is easily recycled.
  3. Number 3 is for PVC, which is commonly used in piping and other building materials. When burned, PVC releases toxic gases into the environment and is harder to recycle because of this toxicity.
  4. Plastic bags are commonly made from LDPE, number 4, and can be recycled in bulk. You can return shopping bags to your grocery store to recycle them, but never put individual plastic shopping bags into the recycling bin.
  5. Number 5 plastic is found in straws and squeeze bottles. Some of these products can be recycled, but straws are not recyclable.
  6. Styrofoam is made from PS plastic with the number 6. Evidence has shown that these plastics leak toxins into their environment relatively easily and take millennia to degrade naturally. Number 6 plastics can be recycled if collected properly. At Tufts, the Science and Technology Center collects styrofoam in bulk for specialty recycling.
  7. The last category, number 7, is miscellaneous plastics. The attributes and recyclability of the plastics are variable.

To learn more about how recycling works watch this great video from Sci Show:

Be sure to check the numbers on the bottom of your plastics and refer to this guide to recycle your plastics correctly. Recycling is a great way to reduce our environmental footprint and a big step toward making our world more sustainable, but remember that reducing use and reusing items should always come before recycling.

Speciality Recycling and Waste

At Tufts, we have collection sites for specialty recycling from batteries to textiles to sneakers to E-Waste! It is extremely important for these products to be recycled and diverted from the waste stream to be repurposed, as this prevents toxic landfill leakage from re-entering the environment  and reduces extractive mining and processing needs both of which harm local community health.

Much of these specialty recycling items can be categorized as universal waste, which includes four general categories: batteries, pesticides, mercury-containing equipment, and lamps.  All of these items are regulated by the federal government and must be disposed of in ways that meet federal standards.

To recycle batteries, we need to take some precautions. All alkaline batteries and non-lithium ion batteries must have their terminals taped with clear tape to avoid a potential fire hazard during transportation. Lithium-ion batteries should be collected in a separate bin. There are blue and white bins around campus where you can drop off your old batteries. Batteries are considered regulated waste and must be diverted from the regular waste stream to follow federal regulations.

Tufts also has special yellow toters around campus for composting, a great way to reduce the amount of waste we produce. According to the EPA, almost a quarter of municipal waste in landfills is food waste, which easily could be avoided through composting. We even have tips for making composting in your dorm and off-campus apartment easy and intuitive.

Recently, Tufts implemented a textile-recycling program on campus, with four locations listed on the Tufts Eco-Map. In these bins, you can drop off any and all used textiles, including clothes, towels, bedding, even tennis shoes. These items will either be sold as is or repurposed and sold as new products. Specialty recycling is a great way to get items that would typically be thrown away out of landfills.

Remember to:


E-waste stands for electronic waste: all electronic products that we no longer use either because they no longer work or the technology is outdated. This includes laptops, desktop computers and monitors, cell phones, televisions, printers and fax machines, and all the smaller parts that come with them. Unfortunately, it is estimated that 60 million metric tons of e-waste enter US landfills each year, leaking harmful chemicals and making up 70% of the toxic waste in these landfills.

Fortunately, we can recycle these products instead of throwing them into landfills. They all contain useful resources, including glass, metals, plastics, and various minerals, that can be reused and diverted from the waste stream. Using the Tufts Eco-Map, you can locate collection sites to drop off your e-waste to make sure you are recycling it in a safe, effective way for both people and the environment. For more information about how to properly dispose of your e-waste visit the Tufts Facilities site.

Find more information about E-Waste from these informative articles:

Textile Recycling Stations Around Campus

According to Bay State Textiles, almost 21 billion pounds of textiles are thrown away every year in the United States; however, 95% of the textiles discarded can be recycled, and 45% of recycled textiles can be reused.

This year, committing to reducing your carbon footprint and helping those in need from campus just got even simpler. Donate your old clothes, shoes, sheets, towels, backpacks, and other approved items to the textile recycling stations around campus.

Look out for the sweater icon   on our Eco Map to find the closest textile recycling station near you!

Green Labs at Tufts

Labs are incubators of learning, innovation, and fostering the ideas for a better future, but labs also require large amounts of energy and resources. They require constant air circulation, energy-intensive equipment, and disposal of dangerous chemicals. Professor Kenny of the Tufts Chemistry Department has spent his career combining his two passions—sustainability, and chemistry. He has been a vital member of the Council for Sustainability of Campus Operations (sustainability council for short) and teaches an Environmental Studies core requirement, Chem 8: Environmental Chemistry, offered this coming spring semester.

This past summer, Professor Kenny and his Chemistry & Environmental Studies undergrad advisees Jonathan Ng and Patrick Milne conducted research in the prototype program Projects in Campus Sustainability, funded by the Council. These projects bring together faculty, students, and staff. Both Jonathan and Patrick’s projects focused on how to make the Pearson-Michael Chemistry complex a more sustainable lab space.

These projects grew out of a final paper written by Kirsten Hickey, an employee of the Chemistry Department, written for a class in campus sustainability taught by Professor Ann Rappaport.  Hickey’s paper described a number of areas in which the department could save energy and money while reducing its carbon footprint. Kenny transformed the report into a set of focused sustainability projects for which a cost-benefit analysis would be carried out by his students, with guidance from relevant faculty and staff.

Jonathan researched how to reduce the number of solvents used in research. Solvents are used in virtually every chemistry experiment and their disposal is expensive and energy intensive. Jonathan found that one solvent that was purchased for $3.70 per liter then cost $3.35 per liter to dispose of, meaning the total cost of using and disposing of the solvent is nearly double the initial purchasing cost. The solvents then need to be disposed of safely, often requiring hundreds of miles of travel to be properly disposed of. This high cost, both finically and environmentally, can be reduced by investing in a state of the art flash chromatography instrument that reduces both the amount of time and the amount of solvent needed for purification. Currently, the Pearson-Michael labs use an older, inefficient filtration system that requires a large volume of solvent. Jonathan is proposing that Tufts invest in the Reveleris® Prep System; the proposed new machine saves both time and solvent by optimizing the process on each trial using sophisticated software and an ultra-sensitive detector. This solvent saving machine would pay for itself in just two years while reducing the carbon footprint of Tufts labs.

Fume hoods are commonplace in chemistry labs, but do they need to be? That was the question driving Patrick Milne’s research \\project this summer. Fume hoods run constantly to remove any hazardous gasses produced by experiments. One of these hoods uses as much energy as three and a half average American homes, and there are 93 of them in Pearson-Michael. Regulating the air quality and protecting students from dangerous substances is the top priority of any lab, but Patrick determined that there was little or no need for General Chemistry 1 and 2 courses to do experiments that produce dangerous fumes. Altering the curriculum to do experiments that teach the same concepts but without the use of dangerous fumes is safer and more energy efficient. Most who take general chemistry continue on to take upper-level chemistry courses, so there is no need for these students to handle dangerous chemicals. Turning off or removing the fume hoods in the general chemistry labs would reduce Tufts energy consumption. Patrick also suggested that when fumes do need to be removed from an experiment, an extraction arm can be used. These extraction arms are more precise than fume hoods and filter the air more energy efficient than a fume hood.

Professor Kenny with Jonathan Ng and Patrick Milne

Sustainable Chemistry Tips from Professor Kenny, Patrick, and Jonathan

Sustainable practices have only been integrated into teaching in the last few decades. Environmental awareness and thinking are increasing in labs, but as Professor Kenny explained, “unless special efforts are made to challenge ‘business as usual,’ people usually stick with what they learned.” Making students conscience of sustainable lab practices is the most important way to improve the sustainability of labs, both for now and for the future. Professor Kenny wishes for more research to be done on buildings and labs all over campus on ways to reduce waste and improve sustainability. Patrick and Jonathan hope to continue research and working on combining their passions for sustainability and chemistry in their future. Professor Kenny asks that “if anyone has ideas for projects that require collaboration between faculty, staff, and students come and see me and the sustainability council.” If you have an idea that could make Tufts more sustainable, don’t keep it to yourself; contact the Office of Sustainability or the Campus Sustainability Council with your ideas and help us create a more sustainable Tufts!

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