Published: March 15, 2022 By

employee at CU recycling centerDid you know that CU has an on-campus recycling facility? The Recycling Operations Center (ROC) is an intermediate step in the recycling process between campus buildings and the end markets for recycling. The goal of the ROC is to properly sort materials so that they can be reused, reducing the need to use virgin resources to make products. Since these materials are sorted to such a high degree, they can be sold to end markets and generate revenue to help offset the cost of collection and processing. The ROC is located next to the CU Events Center and across from the Engineering Center.

Like almost everything, recycling is a business!  Along with generating revenue from the sale of materials, the business of recycling has a goal to put waste back to use and reduce the need for harvesting virgin materials from the earth. This is why all academic buildings on campus have dual-stream recycling systems. Papers and containers are sorted into two separate bins in order to avoid contamination - that way, white “virgin” printer paper can't be contaminated by Diet Coke or coffee. In the ROC, there are two sorting lines that are deemed the “wet line” and the “dry line.” The wet line is where “containers” trash bags are sent while the dryline is where “paper” bags are sent.

Working at the ROC for a semester, I realized that most contaminants that I picked out while working on the lines were compostable items. Although misleading, it is important to remember that recyclable does NOT mean compostable. Compostable items must be sent to an industrial composting facility and cannot be resold to recycling markets. Read more about that in some articles written by our team here:

After contaminants are removed from the line, the paper/containers fall into a bin at the end of the line that is then brought to the tipping floor. The recyclable materials are weighed and recorded before being tipped into large bins that are located beneath the floor. These bins are then sent to the Boulder County Recycling Center where they are bailed and shipped to end markets.

Recycling is a complicated process; there are millions of different materials and it is impossible to entirely memorize how all should be sorted. Working at the ROC helped me realize all the effort that goes into the recycling process, so that when I am sorting through my own recycling at home, I utilize these techniques. What could these items be recycled into? Is this material able to be sold to an external market? Eco-cycle, a recycling company in Boulder, is an excellent resource for looking up whether or not an item is recyclable. It takes practice, but most importantly, a desire to learn.

Convinced that you want to sort through recycling, listen to loud music and hang out with passionate and fun environmentalists who also go to CU? Check if positions are open to work at the ROC and get paid for your time.

All pictures were sourced from Grounds & Recycling Operations Center (GROC) | Environmental Center | University of Colorado Boulder