RISD: Giving a “Second Life” to Recyclable Materials

By Rebecca Wong


Check out RISD’s Second Life Center, a sustainable center for donating reusable materials where RISD’s students are able to recycle unwanted materials that have been purchased for prior projects and in return, retrieve any material that suits their needs. Their solution of creating a center for usable material is remarkable, considering the fact that many design communities waste perfectly usable drawing pads, scrap wood, paint and all kinds of art supplies every day. There is no real way of knowing how many reusable materials are being thrown away in trash bins. The RISD community provides a large container for the supplies at 31 Canal Street and occasionally has different collection points for students’ conveniences. Even if the container is open for a few hours on some days of the week, the students are able to successfully use this facility as a recycling center.


As a student, faculty or member of Pratt’s community, do you reuse materials effectively? How important do you think it is to recycle supplies? Comment below or message us on Facebook to let us know! We’d love to have a recycling center for art supplies for the Pratt community in the future!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Giant Pile of Trash in the Ocean?: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

As a kid, you may have wondered what happens to all of the trash that gets pulled out into the ocean. You may have been told it floats around space, or maybe that it just sinks to the bottom of the ocean.  Did you ever question the validity of these seemingly silly statements?

This ball of garbage at the bottom of the ocean actually does exists and it is continuously growing.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of debris in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California. No one knows exactly how much garbage makes up the entirely of the patch as there is no effective method to measure the amount of debris. While some plastics float on the surface, denser debris sinks down lower in the water. It’s estimated size ranges from about the size of Texas (25,000 sq. miles) to about 6 million sq. miles. In all, that means the garbage patch covers about 10% of the entire Pacific Ocean!


Because the patch is made up of non-biodegradable plastics, called microplastics, which break down into smaller pieces. For a long time, oceanographers and climatologists could only speculate about the existence of the garbage patch because satellite imagery was not able to show it. The area was initially spotted by Charles Moore, a racing boat captain, who went sailing from Hawaii to California, and crossed the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.  There, he noticed the millions of floating pieces of plastic.

Any type of trash can get into the ocean and be added to the patch, though it is mostly plastic. Scientists have estimated up to 1.9 millions pieces (the size of your pinky nail) per square mile of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.


This garbage is very harmful to marine life. Sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for their favorite food, jellyfish. The plastic rings that hold six-packs together strangle many mammals and birds. The microplastic collects on the surface and blocks the sun, therefore diminishing the food source for algae and plankton below, as well as changing the entire ecosystem in that area.

Starting at the coast of North America, it takes trash about six years to reach the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, while trash from Japan and other Asian countries takes only about one year to become part of the mass. Many international organizations are dedicated to preventing the enlargement of the patch since no country is close enough to assume responsibility to fund its cleanup, which is a very difficult task in itself. Since it’s discovery by Moore, many have traveled through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Moore raises awareness of plastics polluting the ocean through the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. In 2009, the foundation organized the JUNK Raft Project by sailing across the Pacific Ocean in a raft filled with 15,000 plastic bottles.

YouTube Preview Image

TED Talk of Charles Moore discussing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

     Next time you’re near a body of water, remember to throw out your trash in an appropriate bin. Even if your garbage is only a small bit of something, if it not biodegradable, it will likely end up in this quickly growing oceanic trash pile.

Posted in Environmental Activism, Environmental Issues, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Post-event update!

(a text from Tonya, our president): “Look! So awesome! People are totally recycling correctly and this bin is almost full!!!!” Thank you, Pratt, for recycling correctly!! You’re the best!

Posted in Recycling Campaign | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

pictures of the new recycling bins!


Picture 1 of 33

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Check Out Trash Tetris – Pratt Envirolutions’ new video on how to recycle!

Not sure about the specifics of recycling? Pratt Envirolutions is here to explain all the details. Check out this sweet video to find out some of the unfamiliar rules about the simple act of recycling!

Also, be sure to sure to attend Pratt Envirolutions’ recycling bin launch on November 6, 2012 in front of the Engineering Building lawn @ 4 PM. President Schutte will be there, along with free food provided by CulinArt!

See you there!

Posted in Events, Events by Envirolutions, Recycling Campaign | Leave a comment

The Presidential Elections: Environmentally, Where Does Your Candidate Stand?

        The presidential election is fast approaching and everywhere you turn, there is some sort of political support or slander. Most may already know who they will be voting for on the November 4th Election Day, but even so, many may not be aware of the environmental stand of both the Democratic and Republican nominees Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Do you know where your candidate stands on key environmental issues?
        Environmental issues have become a “third rail” and not been a very talked about subject for either of the candidates. There’s blame on both sides, but let’s not pretend the two parties neglect climate change equally.
         Governor Mitt Romney believes in man-made global warming, but is not certain to the extent that we are causing the change in the environment. He would like to adopt policies that allow us to become energy independent and reduce the greenhouse gas that we emit, with “No Regrets” policies.
        Romney supports additional drilling offshore, as well as, the use of nuclear, clean coal, liquid coal, solar, wind, and other renewable resources. He wants to make America an energy superpower by rapidly and responsibly increasing our own production and partnering with our allies to achieve energy independence. When asked if he supports cap-and-trade (a market-based approach used to control pollution by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of pollutants), Governor Romney states that he would support it on a global system, but not solely for the US. “They don’t call it ‘America warming.’ They call it ‘global warming.’”
        While at the Republican convention, Romney made a bit of a joke about climate change in his speech and received a standing ovations. His convention speech offered instead to “help you and your family,” as if the state of Earth has nothing to do with the well being of our families.
        Meanwhile at the Democratic National Convention, we did not hear much about environmental issues, but President Barack Obama did make one fairly important remark regarding climate change, “Climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke; they are a threat to our children’s future.” He also commented on the chance to create more natural gas jobs, spoke about building wind turbines and reducing dependence on foreign oil. Obama has been pretty clear that he still opposes offshore drilling in addition to supporting cap-and-trade.
        The President has taken steps to reduce carbon pollution, including establishing fuel economy standards that will cut the amount of carbon pollution from cars in half, proposing standards to decrease carbon pollution from new power plants, and helping us transition to cleaner and more efficient energy sources.
        President Obama has enacted the largest expansion of wilderness protection in a generation and established the country’s first comprehensive ocean policy. Also, under the Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken the first steps toward regulating carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants and, in addition, the U.S. has cataloged greenhouse gas emissions from large emission sources for the first time.
         Perhaps my bit of information about both President Obama and Governor Romney’s stands on environmental issues has helped you decide your pick for presidential nominee, and maybe you are already dead set on who you will be voting for. Either way, we all must prepare for these men and their plans for our federal government to become enacted. 
        Although the date for voter registration has since passed, those of you who are registered, I strongly urge you to go out there on November 6th and cast your ballot for the man you see fit to run the nation!!
Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alternatives to Recycling: Terracycle

(In response to a comment posted to the Pratt Envirolutions facebook, this post is dedicated to alternative recycling programs.)

Dos & DON’Ts of TerraCycle products

TerraCycle is a group of “brigades” which collect items that would otherwise be landfill-bound, because Sanitation cannot handle so many unique recycling processes required by this ‘trash’, and recycles them into products sold at reasonable prices by DwellSmart. Sign up (as an individual or organization, like a school) to a brigade is free—although there are limited spots—in order to receive pre-paid shipping labels. Your job would then be to collect materials (which depend on your brigade: Bear Naked, Candy Wrapper, Colgate Wisp, Laptop, Solo Cup, and many others) and ship them according to instruction. As TerraCycle does not require a minimum, the pressure to fill a quota is non-existent.

Next, TerraCycle’s job would be to recycle the shipped materials into new products. This is where I start to doubt the program: while many products like plant pots, environmentally-friendly cleaning products, and up-cycled billboard book bags are useful and look good, there are many not so useful and just plain tacky items for sale. Correct me if    I am wrong, but who has the need for a Capri-Sun pouch patch-work style bag? Or a Lay’s bookbag?

TeraCycle corkboard: DIY, or to buy?

The program stresses the resources required to produce new products, while down-playing the transportation costs. For example, a cork recycling brigade yields material to manufacture a cork board (well, of course!). The cork is arranged in a pattern to a wooden frame; simple. But when I see that it is manufactured in China (with corks presumably collected in the USA, never mind the provenance of their original wine bottles), I have to wonder if recycling these corks (and wrappers, pens, etc.) is worth the transportation costs, in terms of both finances and resources. So many of the products are so simple that Pratt students would have no problem making them as a lazy Sunday afternoon DIY project—a project that could be made in the USA. The food equivalent of this is local versus organic—ideally, you would have them united.

Check out Ecoist.com for slightly more fun and design-focused products created along similar guidelines.

Preserve Gimme 5 is an example of a more focused program: they collect #5 plastics (like yogurt cups) and make them into BPA-free product, such as kitchen bowls and toothbrushes, here in the USA. As they do not pay for shipping, items should be dropped off at Whole Foods stores or other participating locations (the Park Slope Food Co-op, for example).

Both of these programs have reward systems in place based on the number of items sent in, or how many times you have electronically checked-in at the bins to give participants products, or to donate money to their chosen organizations. This is a toss-up:  should people be rewarded for recycling, something that hopefully makes sense to do even without the rewards?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Recycling Campaign Launches with New Poster

Look for these posters around campus!

Posted in Events by Envirolutions, Recycling Campaign | Leave a comment

NYU and Sustainability in the City


Just a short subway ride away from Pratt is New York University, a fellow NYC university dedicated to reducing their environmental impact . NYU GREeN is the sustainability program located on campus that tackles the environmental issues and is making strides toward making NYU a zero-waste campus. Recycling and waste related projects play a large role in the service programs participated in by students, staff, and faculty in each of its many schools. As the largest institutional composter in Manhattan, NYU produces several tons of compost per week from a dozen dining halls.

NYU’s recycling program is similar in its impact, instructing students about the proper methods for their mixed recycling system. For the proper disposal of technological waste, NYU has special collection bins for these items to prevent toxic chemicals from leaching into the environment. Although the university is situated in the center of a big city, NYU finds ways makes their campus as sustainable as possible, without any sacrifices (and perhaps Pratt can take some pointers from its neighbors!)




Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

I Reduce the Sanitation Department’s Fuel Consumption. What Am I?

Have you ever seen those big, black bins at Union Square—the ones that might be garbage cans, but look just as much like…a portal to a fantasy land? Or perhaps you have seen them in your hometown—be it Boston, Chicago, Philly, Salzburg, Cambridge, Frankfurt, or a slew of others—as these locations have recently placed such mysterious obstacles on street corners? Well, the mystery is about to be solved here: these bins are actually solar-powered trash compactors.
 A Big Belly Solar Compactor
  Big Belly Solar (a company created in 2003) has designed the trash compactor in order to reduce the amount of gas used by trash collection trucks during their rounds of pick-up. The bins hold approximately the same amount of garbage as an average bin, but by compacting the trash, their capacity is actually up to five times that of a regular bin load. In addition, each bin is wirelessly connected to a database; when the trash bin is full, a signal is sent requesting a pick-up (lights located on each bin also communicate this).
 Did I mention that all of these processes are solar-powered (the bins need only to ‘see’ the sky—no direct sunlight necessary)?!
What this does is eliminate the number to collection trips required, as collection trucks do not waste time emptying bins that are empty. If you are willing to believe Big Belly Solar, this is a 70-80% reduction in collection trips. This then cuts down the amount of time pick-up trucks spend idling. In addition, expenditure for labor, maintenance and other supplies will be reduced, as the $4,000 bins pay for themselves and even return thousands in savings–all while greening the environment.
The bins also come in a recycling version, use less or no plastic liner bags, and have built in covers to keep the weather and animals away.
But we have to be careful: compacting trash may reduce volume (which garbage trucks already do, too), but does not reduce the weight. A pick-up truck can only carry a certain weight, and this design does not effectively discourage the amount of trash being created. I can even imagine a scenario where statistics of lower volume of trash at landfills are incorrectly touted to create the illusion of a successful and ‘complete’ reduction in the amount of trash produced.
And finally, this may be the perfect example of the need for better education and advertising: after seeing these bins multiple times, I could never figure out what went into them (I actually thought they were for composting…but that’s a topic for another post) as they are relatively new—the first few were placed in Union Square in 2009—and lacked any instructions. Generally, know that unless there is a specifically shaped slot or label, any items for regular bins are equally welcomed by the Big Belly Solar compactor.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment