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Residence halls join initiative to keep plastic out of landfills

Sixteen hundred pounds of plastic waste collected in residence halls at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has been diverted from landfills due to the university's participation in the Wisconsin Wrap Recycling Action Program, a statewide public-private initiative to reduce plastic waste and increase plastic bag and film recycling in Wisconsin, which began last fall.

WRAP enlists partner organizations to collect recyclable plastic bags and film. So far, UW-Eau Claire is one of only two universities in the UW System partnering with WRAP. 

UW-Eau Claire Housing and Residence Life started as a WRAP partner last fall, just before students moved into campus residence halls. Housing and Residence Life had already been recycling cardboard during move-in through its Cardboard Corral event, through which more 36 tons of cardboard have been recycled. The addition of WRAP receptacles for plastic bags, wrap and film have further increased students' ability to recycle waste generated during move-in. 

Through the WRAP program, plastic bags, film and wrap will continue to be collected in the residence halls throughout the academic year. 

Kate Hartsel, UW-Eau Claire Housing and Residence Life sustainability coordinator, said the program allows students to recycle materials such as shopping bags, sandwich bags and plastic packing pillows. 

"Even more importantly, it gives them the opportunity to learn about how these materials can be made into useful products, such as the composite decking created by Trex, the company that will ultimately receive our plastic bags and film." 

Multiple efforts have been made to educate students on their plastic waste can be reused.  

Students Encouraging Environmental Deeds (SEEDS), a sustainability organization run by Housing and Residence Life, offers a program titled "Plastic May Be Not So Fantastic." The workshop provides information to students on the WRAP program and on other aspects of plastic use and reuse.

Additionally, an all-day WRAP awareness event that provided students the opportunity to learn more about the program how and see how the plastic baler used for the program operates was held in the lobby of the Towers residence halls last fall. 

Hartsel said that the WRAP partnership initiative benefits the Eau Claire community. REACH, a nonprofit organization that provides employment for local people with disabilities, collects the recyclables gathered through the WRAP program. REACH then processes the plastic and sells it to Trex Company Inc.

"This program truly demonstrates our campus's commitment to sustainability and working collaboratively with the community in a tangible way," Hartsel said.

For more information on UW-Eau Claire's partnership with WRAP or sustainability initiatives in UW-Eau Claire residence halls, visit the Housing and Residence Life website or contact Kate Hartsel at hartseka@uwec.edu or 715-836-2505.