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University at Buffalo’s RENEW Institute delves into the state of the plastic recycling industry

Many New Yorkers are recycling these days, and feeling pretty good about it. After all, recycling is considered the low hanging fruit when it comes to ways that people can help to safeguard the planet from environmental ruin.

At the same time, there are plenty of people who question how well the system actually works, especially due to China’s decision to ban incoming solid wastes, including single-use plastics. Suddenly the US found itself in a tight spot, with no secondary plan to accommodate the mounting waste that was piling up.

To that end, New York State has turned to the University at Buffalo – the RENEW Institute – to conduct a multidisciplinary study of the plastics recycling industry. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has allotted $1.9 million to UB to move forward with the study, which is essentially threefold: To stimulate the regenerative economy, to reduce pollution, and to educate people on the progress (or lack thereof). 

Currently, the City of Buffalo ( touts that its recycling diversion rate is currently 30.07%, which exceeds the national average. These encouraging numbers beget… is this the collection rate, the actual recycling rate, and what happens with the bi-products? Also, due to COVID-19 and the China issue, do these percentages fluctuate?

“The project is well-aligned with RENEW’s mission to bring together teams of multidisciplinary faculty to focus on complex issues related to energy and the environment. RENEW’s overall goal to enable a regenerative economy includes improving recycling of all materials,” says RENEW Institute Director and SUNY Distinguished Professor Amit Goyal, who is also the project’s director.

“[The] announcement by Governor Cuomo and our partnership with SUNY schools will support exciting work with the University at Buffalo’s RENEW Institute, whose research will bring transformative change to the recycling stream by reducing contaminants,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “This partnership will evaluate sorting technologies and assess potential costs and benefits to improving recycling infrastructure with a focus on plastics, leading to greater efficiencies and less waste that will protect the environment and benefit the economy. Recycling right is the key to keeping contamination down and the quality of recyclables high and the RENEW Institute’s research on recycling outreach and education supports that effort.”

At this point, there are more questions than there are answers. With an estimated world population of 7,800,000,000 people, there doesn’t appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel, or bottomless pit that we continue to dig for ourselves. Our world leaders must step up quickly, to divert funding away from unsustainable energy sources, while investing in clean industries such as recycling, wind, solar, and water. In the meantime, we must keep as much plastic out of our waters as possible – another mounting problem that will not get fixed until we understand the true implications at hand. 

Once thing is for sure: If we don’t have the facts and figures, and we continue to bury our heads in the sand, we’re going to be up to our ears in plastic before we know it. We might actually be at the point, unfortunately.

Hat tip: UB News

Lead image: Photo by Nick Fewings

Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

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