Solar-powered recycling units join trash compactors

Solar-powered recycler

A new blue recycling unit and older green trash compactor near Beardshear Hall are among five dynamic duos of solar-powered technology on central campus. Photo by Bob Elbert.

A new breed of BigBelly solar receptacles have been installed in several central campus locations. While the latest BigBellys resemble their trash-compacting cousins, they're recycling bins, not garbage containers.

The five new recycling units are near The Hub, Memorial Union and Curtiss, Beardshear and Kildee halls. Each new unit is situated next to a trash compactor.

Pause before you pitch

"Before tossing everything into the trash, we hope people will take a moment to see if they're pitching things that could be recycled," said director of sustainability Merry Rankin.

Basically, the receptacles are for glass, plastic and paper. Much of the typical campus "trash" -- for example, newspapers, plastic "clamshell" food containers and glass, plastic or metal beverage bottles -- can be recycled, Rankin said.

There are a few items, however, that Rankin said should be trashed rather than recycled. These include food and permeable plastics or paper that have become wet or contaminated with food (think cheesy pizza boxes, coffee containers from ISU Dining or sandwich wrappers).

Plastics recycle symbol

"A beverage or food container that is basically empty, but hasn't been rinsed out, is fine," she added.  "If you're unsure about plastics, look for the 'chasing arrows' recycling symbol.

Like the trash compactors, the recycling units have solar-powered smart technology that keeps facilities planning and management staff informed about how the machines are doing. FPM staff need only go online to determine if a unit is working properly or if it needs to be emptied.

Recyclable items are turned over to Waste Management, a national provider of recycling and waste diversion services.

Compactor count

ISU's first solar trash compactors arrived in 2009. Today, there are 46,  with seven more coming this summer.

The recycling units are a pilot project that began shortly before Veishea. So far, so good.

"All the BigBellys were full after Veishea and there were no problems," Rankin said.

The new units cost about $5,000 each (including "wraps" and placement costs) and were funded collaboratively. The vice president for business and finance office, the sustainability office and FPM each purchased a unit and the Government of the Student Body purchased two.

Student drivers

"Many of the green activities on campus are student-driven," Rankin said. "I'm proud that we have students who are so interested and active in advancing sustainability on this campus. When they leave here, it is exciting to think they will carry that passion and stewardship into their careers, communities, and homes."