Learning through Engagement

Weizhuo Zhao and Huasheng Zhou
Weizhuo Zhao (left) and Huasheng Zhou

Professor, students learn plenty conducting solid waste landfill study

Perusing the composition of materials being disposed at several Indiana landfills, 13 Purdue Calumet students learned that Hoosiers throw away a lot of recyclable items—including more plastic than residents of comparable states.

The students recently completed the Municipal Solid Waste Characterization Study for Indiana, commissioned by the Indiana Recycling Market Development Board. Purdue Calumet Professor of Mechanical Engineering Harvey Abramowitz wrote the proposal for the study and directed the students’ efforts.

Items studied from 4 landfills

Deana Miskimins
Deana Miskimins

Contracted through the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), the study sought to reveal types of items being disposed. Samples were taken from four landfills representing urban, suburban and rural areas.

“Getting clearance to go on the landfills was the biggest challenge, since many are privately owned,” Abramowitz said.

Findings of the three-year project were released last May.

Deana Miskimins, a 2011 Purdue Calumet graduate from Munster, joined the project because environmental science is something that really interests her. “I want to work for the EPA… The study sounded really exciting, interesting and fun. I knew that it would be an amazing opportunity.”

Yu Sun, Huasheng Zhou, Anna Stariha and Deana Miskimins
Yu Sun, Huasheng Zhou, Anna Stariha and Deana Miskimins

More than half of content can be recycled

What surprised her most about working on the project, she said, is that more than half of what is placed into landfills can be recycled.

“I had been told this before, but to actually experience it firsthand made me really see the true facts,” she said.

Overall, the students documented that paper comprised 29 percent of the landfills’ municipal solid waste composition. Categorically, other items included: plastic–17 percent, food waste–10 percent, yard waste–7 percent, wood–7 percent, metal–6 percent, textiles and leather–6 percent, demolition and construction debris–5 percent, durables–4 percent, glass–3 percent, diapers–3 percent; and household hazardous materials–1 percent.

‘I was surprised at everything I saw’

“It was an eye-opener,” spring biology graduate Anna Stariha said. “I was surprised at everything I saw—a lot of paper and food waste.”

Abramowitz said he is not sure how IDEM will use the study’s results. “Some policy decisions can’t be made without the type of information we gathered,” he said.

He also hopes the study’s findings will prompt greater public awareness of and concern for important environmental issues.

Other information about the study is available at http://www.in.gov/recycle [Opens in New Window].

Mark Arciaga, Yu Sun, Anna Stariha, Dayin Zhang, Huasheng Zhou
Mark Arciaga, Yu Sun, Anna Stariha, Dayin Zhang, Huasheng Zhou