Tufts won a bench made out of recycled plastic film!

The bench, located in the backyard of CoHo

Tufts has a range of specialty recycling programs through which its community members can sustainably dispose of items that cannot be conventionally recycled. This includes items such as batteries, ink and toner, textiles, and as of 2018—plastic film! Tufts’ plastic film recycling program is a partnership between local grocers and Trex, a composite decking company.

In September 2019, Tufts signed-up for a Trex challenge to recycle 500 pounds of plastic film in 6 months. Between student Move-In, Dining Center kitchens, the mail room, and a range of other efforts, Tufts was able to meet this goal. In turn, we won a Trex bench made out of recycled plastic film!

The plaque on the bench.

How did we win the challenge?

Learn more about how we engaged the Tufts community and recycled enough plastic film to win the challenge:  

Student Move-In and plastic film recycling:

Some plastic film from Move In 2019.

Each fall when students move back to campus, they bring with them a range of packing items, often including a large amount of plastic film such as air pillows and bubble wrap. During Fall 2019 Move-In, our recycling workers circulated the residence halls and dumpsters with special bags for collecting plastic film from students. We were able to collect 192 pounds of film during Move-In alone!

Residence hall recycling competition and waste audits:

Contamination in the recycling from one of our waste audits, mostly consisting of plastic film items.

Later in the 2019 fall semester, the Office of Sustainability (OOS) recycling team partnered with the Eco-Reps to hold a residence hall recycling competition. We judged the competition through a series of 11 waste audits in the residence halls. Through good-spirited competition, we educated about and encouraged proper recycling.

The waste audits also provided valuable qualitative and quantitative data about diversion rate, contamination rate, and the most common contaminants in the recycling stream. Contaminants are when items that cannot be conventionally recycled are placed in the recycling bin, thereby contaminating it.

Plastic film bin expansion and educational campaign:

After noting from the waste audits that plastic film items were one of the most common contaminants in the conventional recycling stream, the Eco-Reps and OOS recycling team embarked upon a plastic film recycling educational campaign. This involved a range of efforts, including but not limited to:

A plastic film specialty recycling bin
  • Starting a new plastic film specialty recycling bin at the Boston campus (currently on hiatus during COVID)
  • Creating new audience-specific plastic film recycling signage (a general sign, a mail room sign, and a sign for the Dining Center kitchens catered to their specific items)
  • Fielding staff and faculty Eco-Ambassador requests for new bins in select spots
  • Creating and sharing social media and newsletter content educating about plastic film and the specialty recycling program
  • Eco-Reps put out “pop-up” plastic film recycling collection bins in the residence halls

How can I recycle plastic film at Tufts?

Plastic film items include soft plastics such as grocery bags, bubble wrap, plastic padded-envelopes, air pillows, and even bread, cereal, and produce bags.

Our general plastic film recycling sign.

These items cannot be conventionally recycled because they get tangled in the machinery at the sorting facility. This can shut things down, costing time and money and posing a safety hazard to the people working at the facility. Watch this video to learn more about the hazards that plastic film poses when placed in the conventional recycling bin.

Reducing waste is a great away to avoid this problem, such as through using reusable bags instead of grocery bags. However, if you do find yourself with a plastic film item, specialty recycling it at Tufts or at your local grocer is a great way to divert it from the landfill!

Though the plastic film specialty recycling program was paused at Tufts due to challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, as of February 2021, the program is back up and running. Learn more about what to recycle on our webpage and find specialty recycling bin locations on our Eco-Map.

What happens when I recycle plastic film at Tufts?

Here’s how the full process works:

  1. Tufts community member drops their plastic film items into a plastic film specialty recycling bin on campus
  2. The Office of Sustainability’s specialty recycling intern services the bins on a regular schedule, taking the plastic film to a local grocer accepting plastic film in partnership with Trex
  3. Trex picks up the film from the grocery store. They clean and grind the film into granules and combine and heat it with sawdust. The resulting mixture is formed into boards.
  4. Plastic film is recycled into eco-friendly decking, benches, and other outdoor living products! You can learn more about this process from Trex here.
The circular economy and product transformation of plastic film recycled at Tufts.

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