Students watch USC’s waste process firsthand

USC’s recycling efforts could still be improved, but as students who toured USC’s waste management facility Tuesday found out, more than half of USC’s waste is ultimately diverted from landfills.

USC waste management and the Undergraduate Student Government led a tour Tuesday of the Athens Services Material Recovery Facility, which handles USC’s waste. The tour was intended to give students deeper insight into how recycling works at USC.

“Most people don’t know about recycling at USC,” said John Baldo, USG director of university affairs. “There’s this huge perception [that] we don’t recycle.”

According to Eric Johnson of USC waste management, USC collected a total of 7,695 tons of waste in 2009. Of that waste, 3,899 of those tons were recycled, giving the school a diversion rate of 51 percent.

Everything put into USC’s trash and recycling bins goes to either the Athens Services facility in the City of Industry, Calif., or to a recycling plant closer to USC, said Mario Gutierrez, vice president of operations at Athens Services, who headed the tour.

At the facility, waste is generally sorted into a processing pile and a transfer pile at the beginning of each process. The processing pile is sorted for recyclables while the transfer pile goes straight to a landfill.

“Some loads aren’t worth processing,” Gutierrez said. “We see if it’s what we call ‘fluffy’ or ‘not fluffy’ — ‘fluffy’ being the good, recyclable material. I have to be really selective about the material process.”

Gutierrez said the facility does as much as it can to divert trash from landfills. It takes trash from all over the San Gabriel Valley, and about 25 percent of the waste gets diverted from landfills.

Sorters at the facility divide wood, metal, paper and plastic into specific areas, where they are sorted further for processing.

Some material is then baled together and sent overseas. China, for example, pays the facility to export paper and plastics. Textiles are burned at a special facility to produce electricity, and food waste is sent to a composting facility in Victorville, Calif.

Though USC’s diversion rate is 51 percent, there are ways to improve it, Baldo said.

“If we sort trash [before it goes to the facility], we can get above that 50 percent,” Baldo said.

USC currently uses a two-bin system. Everything placed in bins designated for recycling actually goes to a separate recycling plant closer to USC, while all of the waste that gets placed in normal trash bins goes to the Athens plant to be sorted.

“Separate your recycling,” Gutierrez said. “Whatever we take to the other recycling center — the university gets all of that material back. That’s where you’re going to get more bang for your buck.”

Johnson said it is important for students to feel responsible for and excited about recycling efforts.

“Students need to know what is recyclable and where they can throw it,” Johnson said in an e-mail. “It seems easy, but many of us throw away something that can be recycled in a trash container because it is more convenient.”

Students on the tour said they were glad to see that USC is working to be sustainable.

“I’m pleased that USC actually goes through their garbage,” said Brandie Gordon, a senior majoring in political science who went on the tour. “I didn’t know how important it was to sort trash and that food waste could ruin recyclables.”

Baldo said he thought, overall, the tour went well.

“We want to show students what’s going on with trash — how we do things and how we can do it better, and thinking about how it can improve,” Baldo said.

Most of all, the tour quelled concerns that USC doesn’t recycle.

“Students have a lot of concerns, but if it gets into USC bins, it will be processed,” Gutierrez said.

1 reply
  1. Frank Jones
    Frank Jones says:

    It’s probably worth checking on Athens’s claims. According to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, Athens’s facility in Industry is an environmental disaster, and Athens recently paid the biggest AQMD fine in history.

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