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University Receives Funding To Improve Recycling, Waste Reduction

The State University of New York at Buffalo has received state funding to focus on strategies to improve recycling and waste reduction.

Recycling markets are currently experiencing unprecedented volatility due in part to tightening import restrictions in Asia. As a result, some U.S. recycling operations are struggling to find suitable markets for material, impacting local solid waste recycling efforts. The state Department of Environmental Conservation is working to strategize how New York can bolster new markets and help municipalities address these challenges and build capacity in the state and northeast region.

“With ongoing changes to worldwide recycling markets threatening our efforts to reduce waste and protect our resources, this new collaboration will tackle these challenges head-on and will help ensure New York’s legacy of environmental stewardship continues,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “We are working closely with some of our best academic institutions to develop strategies that will help make a cleaner, greener Empire State for all.”

A total of $11.9 million from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund will support three SUNY institutions working with DEC on a series of recycling initiatives that will help municipalities and businesses streamline the recycling process, lower costs, improve public outreach strategies, and protect the environment.

The state DEC entered into a $1.9 million partnership with the University at Buffalo with a two-fold objective. Research will focus on assessing the state of the plastics recycling market. Recent changes in recycling markets have made contamination in recycling streams a major issue, reducing the value of the materials being recycled. In order for recycling to continue as a viable industry, contamination must be reduced. Using data collected globally, researchers at UB will work with DEC to evaluate sorting technologies and assess potential costs and benefits to improve recycling infrastructure. In addition, researchers will examine different ways to reduce plastic use by finding more sustainable substitutes.

UB will also evaluate the effectiveness of single- versus multi-stream recycling and bottle deposit efforts, specifically as they relate to plastics contamination reduction. The second area of research focuses on behavioral science involving recycling outreach and education messaging and methods. Evaluating the messaging and mediums available to best advance education and outreach statewide is critical to reducing contamination, maintaining the value of recyclables, and efficiently and effectively using resources. The projects will be conducted over a two-year period.

“Prudent investments like this from the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation will ensure that New York state plays a leadership role that other communities nationwide can follow to make recycling programs more effective,” said Amit Goyal, UB’s Research and Education in Energy, Environment and Water (RENEW) Institute director and SUNY Distinguished professor. “With our multidisciplinary research team, UB’s RENEW Institute is uniquely positioned to provide solutions for the plastics recycling industry, which has been thrown into turmoil. We’re excited to work with the DEC on assessing and improving plastic recycling as well as outreach and educational programs.”

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