UNCW is turning trash into environmentally responsible treasure

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The machine melts Styrofoam into a sausage-like substance. (photo: Peyton Furtado)

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Every Christmas, residents sent literal tons of holiday trimmings to their county recycling center, not knowing many can’t accept items like Styrofoam, Christmas lights, and plastic bags.

But UNCW is turning your trash into environmentally responsible treasure. The university has an onsite recycling compound meant to break down and recycle items county centers can’t.

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“Don’t put them in your curbside bin, but you can bring them to us,” said Recycling Coordinator Feletia Lee. “Because they’re not going to tangle the machinery, they’re not going to risk injury to employees. Because we are pulling everything out by hand.”

After collecting items from the recycling depot, Recycling Supervisor Vinne Gregory drops Styrofoam into a thermal machine that breaks it up, melts it down, and compacts it into a sausage-like substance.

It’s important to remember not every type of Styrofoam is recyclable at UNCW. The machine can only break up expanded polystyrene.

“The one that he has in his hand over here,” explained Lee, “this is expanded polystyrene. See the air in it the bubbles. When you bend it, it snaps. So egg trays, meat trays, you know, the packing blocks for televisions.

Other kinds can ruin both the batch and the machine.

“The other thing they try to do is extruded so when you try it, it just bends.”

Lee admits recycling can be confusing. But whether you’re lookin to save cash or the environment…

“If you’re a hard core environmentalist. you’re reducing the amount of energy it takes to make these types of materials,” and saving the county cash by cutting the cost of repurposing your trash.

The recycling depot is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week on the corner of Lionfish and Plyler Drive. If you want to get rid of any items in a fiscally and environmentally responsible way, but don’t know what you can and can’t recycle, click this link to learn more.