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Cal Poly Utilizes CalRecycle Grant to Successfully Decrease Recycling Contamination

Student assistant Chloe Peng spearheaded the communications efforts.

Cal Poly has decreased recycling contamination on campus by 15 percent thanks to CalRecycle state grant funds.

In 2019 Cal Poly received a $225,000 CalRecycle grant and immediately put it to work improving beverage container recycling and decreasing recycling contamination from 37 percent in 2019 to 22 percent in 2021.

"We are very excited to see the needle move in a positive direction to reduce waste on campus," said Anastasia Nicole, CalRecycle grant lead and Cal Poly's Zero Waste Coordinator for Facilities Management and Development.

Contamination in recycle bins is a considerable obstacle to a successful recycling program. And if recycling is not placed in the correct bins, it winds up in a landfill.

The recycling program included the purchase of universal signage from Recycle Across America to put on bins campus-wide, clearly identifying what can be recycled and what goes to the landfill. It also included the purchase of 12 hands-free, solar-powered Big Belly compacting trash and recycling collection bins, which are placed in busy, high-volume campus areas. These Big Belly bins help decrease waste contamination and keep contents enclosed and compacted to keep Cal Poly areas litter-free. Along with these high-tech bins, more than 1,300 blue recycling bins were purchased and installed in interior hallways and student residence hall rooms.

The CalRecycle grant funded the important signage and additional recycling receptacles. It also supported a campus-wide marketing and communication campaign to educate and engage Cal Poly faculty, students, staff and visitors.

The campaign, "Time Well Spent," details how long glass, plastic and aluminum beverage containers take to break down in the landfill versus the time it takes to place a container in a recycling bin, highlighting that recycling is time well spent. One poster seen on a Big Belly in front of Cal Poly's newest dining complex, Vista Grande, features a glass bottle and says, "It takes a million years to decompose or 1 minute to recycle." The integrated campaign includes social media posts, contests, portal announcements, CP Reports, community outreach through events, posters and flyers.

The grant also covered hiring student assistants to implement the marketing and communication campaign and help with sign and bin logistics. In 2020, students distributed signage and bins and conducted marketing research to determine the best way to get the campus to take action. In 2021, students launched the marketing and communication campaign on social media, hosted a booth at the Sustainability Fair, developed contests to engage campus about recycling and collaborated with local businesses to acquire prizes for the winners.

"It was a lot of hard work," said Chloe Peng, a student assistant spearheading the marketing efforts, "But it was all worth it knowing I was making a difference. It was definitely time well spent."