Wearing work gloves, Christian Rivas sorts through a pile of books, white paper and other materials on a long black conveyor belt.
When the large blue "tip cart" at the end of the conveyor belt is full, Rivas wheels it over to a rectangular hole in the floor and tips it. A loud whoosh — the sound of hundreds of pages of white office paper falling into a roll-off dumpster one floor below — fills the space Wednesday, accompanying the edgy alternative music blasting through the room.
This is the University of Colorado's brand-new recycling facility, a $7.2 million building finished this summer and shared by CU's grounds maintenance and pest management departments.
The warehouse-like space isn't lavish, but it could help the Boulder campus reach its goal of diverting 90 percent of campus waste from landfills, a number that today hovers around 43 percent.
The new building will allow CU to sort more of the items it has always recycled — paper, plastic, aluminum, etc. — as well as add new materials.
"What we figured out is that there are literally thousands of tons that we collect today that are still being landfilled," said Ed von Bleichert, environmental operations manager. "It's not that we have to do anything vastly different; it's maximizing the existing collection program so we can capture more white paper, capture more aluminum, and this facility allows us to do that."
CU's recycling center used to be on Stadium Drive, just east of the Dal Ward Athletic Center, but the $156 million renovation of CU's athletic facilities displaced the recycling operations, which were already "bursting at the seams," von Bleichert said.
Crews completed work on the new facility north of the Coors Event Center in late May. In the meantime, the 20 or so student employees who sort through recyclable materials worked in temporary tents that were freezing during the winter months and stifling in the summer.
By comparison, the new facility feels like the "Taj Mahal," von Bleichert joked.
The building has showers and locker space for employees — a luxury for staff members who are on their feet all day, sorting through waste or doing other jobs on CU's grounds — as well as a dedicated staging area for loading and unloading materials.
It's bigger, brighter and has a better layout that makes sorting and carting materials more efficient, von Bleichert said. A corner of the new recycling center can be used for classes or weekend programs such as Computers to Youth, which provides refurbished and surplus computers to underserved high school students.
There's also room for CU to expand its "special materials" operations, or the processing of hard-to-recycle materials such as binders, plastic shelves, Styrofoam and others.
"The goal is: If it comes here, we've already spent money to get it here; let's make sure it's being diverted and not just thrown away because we didn't have space to sort and stage it," von Bleichert said.
Nearby, junior Maggie Behringer pulled CDs out of their cases and tossed their glossy inserts into a bin. Behringer, who's studying ecology and evolutionary biology, started working in recycling operations as a freshman and now manages special materials.
Though the facility is different, what hasn't changed is the camaraderie felt among the student employees who spend hours each week picking through tons of reusable waste collected on the campus.
They're all connected by the shared feeling that their work, difficult and often dirty, has meaning.
"Although this kind of work is not the most glamorous, and it is manual labor and you're standing all day, it's really important, and what we do really has an impact," she said. "It's cool to hold this CD here and know that most people would throw this away, but because it came here we can send the CD somewhere special, we can recycle this paper and we can send the case somewhere else."