NIU Geography professor encourages us to rethink recycling

When STEM Café coordinator Judy Dymond and the NIU STEAM team planned a STEM café on the topic of recycling, little did we know that that it would be one of most popular STEM Cafés ever! It turns out we’re all a bit confused about recycling and we want to learn more about the global recycling system and what we can do to make a positive difference for our planet.

“Recycling is a complex process and is not particularly efficient in terms of energy and natural resource consumption,” said our speaker Courtney Gallaher, an associate professor in the NIU Department of Geographic and Atmospheric Sciences and the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality.

Professor Courtney Gallaher

“Many of our recyclable products are not recycled in the ways we imagine, either because of contamination in the recycling process due to poor sorting on the end of consumers, or because there is no longer a market for those types of recycled materials,” she continued.

According to Gallaher, “Our ability to actually recycle our products is dependent on international markets for the recycled materials, and when those markets change, as has been the case recently with China, then it jeopardizes our entire recycling system. If we want to continue to recycle our products in the future, it will require us to rethink the ways in which we consume products and the types of materials they are made from.” Read more

Hear Professor Gallaher on the 21st, from Illinois Public Media.

Watch the STEM Café recording.