Compostability testing center plants

Plants grown from a mixture of soil and waste paper product compost are monitored at WMU's compostability testing center. 

According to a report released Feb. 6 by the Minderoo foundation, the world is producing a record amount of single-use plastic waste: 139 million tonnes in 2021. An additional 6 million metric tons of waste was created in 2021 than in 2019. 

The study also states that recycling is not doing enough to prevent plastic waste and despite the concerns, remains a minor activity of the plastic industry. 

One effort of Western Michigan University to aid in this pollution crisis is the Paper Pilot Plants, which is working to replace plastics with fiber, particularly with paper. The Paper Pilot Plants have worked with brands such as Starbucks create more recyclable materials. 

Lon Pschigoda is the general manager of the Western Michigan University Paper Pilot Plants.

“One of the things we’re able to do is help people develop and then apply new coatings to their paper products to make them recyclable,” Pschigoda said. “But we also do certification for recyclability, which means they creat products at their own facility, send them to us, and we can certify whether it is a recyclable product or not.” 

This work is especially important, due to the fact that the Paper Pilot Plants is one of few plants that do this work in the United States.

“15 percent of plastics are collected for recycling, but we only recycle about eight percent due to the co-mingling of plastics,” said Pschigoda. “So one things students can do to assist with the waste crisis is make sure to organize and separate their recyclables correctly.” 

Students can do this by looking at the label on their recyclables to see if they’re compostable, recyclable, or waste. Each is different, and such discrepancies are important to the recycling process.

“A common misconception is that compostable products are recyclable,” Pschigoda said. “Making sure that those compostable products are put in the right place is really important.” 

There are many options for students looking to be more sustainable, including talking to local businesses. 

“One way to push for more sustainability is to make requests to specific businesses that they use recyclable products,” Pschigoda said. “Businesses are more likely to make a change if the consumer is making a demand.” 

Another important aspect of sustainability is the use of composting. 

“50 percent of what we put in a landfill is food and paper waste,”  Pschigoda said. “If we just composted these things, we would cut fifty percent of what we put in the landfill.” 

Students can learn more about compostability through Western Michigan University’s website

Another way for individuals to get more involved with this topic is through the Office of Sustainability on campus. Students can also look at the Paper Pilot Plant’s mission. More information about the Minderoo Foundation’s research can be found on their website.

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