Pizza Boxes Piling Up: Contaminated Cardboard Poses Challenges at Clark

If you’ve ever attended an event on campus, you’ve probably seen the pizza.

Between student events, staff meetings and clubs, Clark buys a lot of it from Dominos, around 850 pies this school year, as of Feb. 16. That’s a lot of pizza.

It’s also a lot of boxes.

According to Clark’s Environmental Sustainability and Recycling webpage, the college is dedicated to reducing natural resource degradation and increasing sustainability in its academic and daily affairs. But Clark staff and administrators said that a lot of Clark’s waste, like the pizza boxes, isn’t recyclable and has to be thrown away.

According to data from Clark’s 2016-17 waste audit, 72 percent of campus waste was trash.

And pizza boxes aren’t Clark’s only waste stream.
Student Life Program Coordinator Darci Feider said Clark composted until two years ago, when Waste Connections discontinued composting everything but food because there was too much material lacking nutrients for breakdown.

Clark’s waste hauler, EFI Recycling, said this change originated in China with a ban against 24 solid waste products, including pizza boxes.

“The Chinese certainly don’t want to have our dirty recycling,” EFI Recycling Logistics Coordinator Brenton Lane said. “We are not allowed to send anything over there that’s been in contact with food unless it’s been cleaned thoroughly.”

Lane said Clark compacts its cardboard into bails. EFI breaks them down, and sorts and seperates the contents. EFI re-bales it and ships to China where it is re-sorted, re-pulped and recycled into new cardboard.

Lane said the shipping containers have holes. The mixture of saltwater, trace food particles and grease create rotten waste China must discard.

“They’re not thoroughly clean,” Lane said. “They’re getting thrown into a container and sent six months overseas and by the time they get it in China everything’s moldy and gross. The work conditions over there are horrible when they are treating recycling like that.”

He said for EFI to avoid fines for contaminants, EFI now pre-approves shipments with detailed photos.
“The cardboard is 100 percent recyclable,” Lane said. “At one time they were taking them, but now they’re cracking down over there. So good for them. We just need to do a better job over here.”


Reducing Waste at Clark


Food Service Manager Becky Lindsay said the culinary program is also facing issues with recycling paper products in the new cafeteria, but she said the program might be able to help.  

“It’s just full of to-go boxes every day,” Lindsay said, pointing to a cafeteria garbage can.

She asks students if they’ll eat in or out. Many opt for to-go boxes either way.

Lindsay said she sees students sit down with the to-go boxes and then throw them away. “I’m a master composter [and] recycler, so this is all near and dear to my heart.”

She said she has been planning to cater campus events and teach recycling classes since before the cafeteria re-opened this winter, but still needs to figure out how much staffing, supplies and budget would be needed.

After being interviewed by the Indy on Feb. 26, Lindsay said she was surprised by the scope of Clark’s pizza box waste, so she decided to figure out the logistics sooner.

She said learning pizza orders range from two to 60 made her optimistic that the program could eventually integrate catering services.
“We would love to do it,” Lindsay said. “I just really want to get our feet under us and make sure we’re doing the best with what we have.”

She said the culinary program is testing the concept in the kitchen now. While she said it isn’t ready yet, she plans to email faculty when it is prepped for catering staff and club meetings.

“It’s exciting to think of all the things we could be doing and all the things we want to do,” Lindsay said.


-Written by Jonna Gomes

One Comment

  1. Kelsey Hukill

    Have we considered incentivising patrons to bring their own containers? Other colleges offer discounts on food/drink if the student brings their own reusable container.

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