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New Ways to Upcycle and Recycle Touch Down on Campus

Recycling masks
Gulls will soon be able to recycle plastic in new ways with two new specialty recycling streams for plastic film and disposable masks.
By: Danna Lorch

Every minute of the pandemic, an estimated three million disposable masks are tossed in the trash—that adds up to a horrifying 129 billion face masks per month tossed out globally. 

Because the masks are essentially plastic products, they don’t easily biodegrade and wreak havoc in waterways and damage the environment by leaching chemical particles over time. 

Thankfully, Gulls will soon be able to recycle plastic in new ways, and for Carly Thibodeau, Endicott’s Associate Director of Sustainability, it’s a significant step in her mission to make the College a plastic-free campus. 

On March 6, Endicott will add two new specialty recycling streams—plastic film and disposable masks—in addition to its electronic waste and traditional recycling programs. 

Endicott students recycling
The debut recycling programs go hand-in-hand with Specialty Recycling Week (March 6-12), the latest themed week in the ongoing Campus Race to Zero Waste competition running through March 26. More than 300 colleges and universities are taking part in the friendly challenge, which rewards the campuses most radically reducing their waste over the course of the eight-week program. 

As part of Specialty Recycling Week, Gulls are invited to attend a March 5 craft night for a cause and upcycle plastic bags into “yarn” and crochet the material into repurposed plastic sleeping mats to be donated to a local homeless shelter. The event is organized by the Endicott Environmental Society

“It’s going to be a really cool event where we take waste that we’ve been collecting through our specialty recycling stream, and we turn it into something that is beneficial to others,” promised Thibodeau. 

And on March 8, the Maker Club and engineering faculty will demonstrate how to make a colorful custom-engraved coaster by recycling 3-D printing filament and melting it into a mold

The event will take place in the Endicott College Makerspace, an incubation center that’s open to all and equipped with 3-D printers, circuit design equipment, and other engineering materials that foster collaboration. 

“We just got a new laser printer for making engineering prototypes. Participants in the workshop will be able to use it to etch their own designs onto their coasters,” said Makerspace Coordinator Emily Nelson. 

The workshop concept originated two years ago, when Jessica Ventura, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, tasked her engineering projects class with figuring out how to do some grassroots recycling in the Makerspace. The students discovered Precious Plastic, a creative website that “teaches people how to make themselves a plastics recycling plant” with everything from building a home-based recycling business to transforming waste into sellable products. 

One of the students’ first sobering takeaways was how many dangerous fumes various recycling streams can generate. They landed on recycling plastic PLA scraps from the Makerspace’s 3-D printers because it was a safe and fun way to make an impact. They’ve been tinkering with methods to sort and repurpose the colorful scraps ever since. 

Also debuting is a new recycling program for plastic films including, grocery bags, air pillows, bubble wrap, blue and white Amazon envelopes, Ziploc bags, case overwrap, newspaper sleeves, and cereal, bread, ice, and produce bags.

Specially marked bins will be appearing around campus soon. And for those who aren’t yet in the know but want to up their recycling game, there are also specialized bins and receptacles set up around campus for recycling electronic waste and composting around campus. This is a chance for the Endicott community to radically reduce its waste in a far-reaching way.

Learn more about recycling at Endicott and the Campus Race to Zero Waste.