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Environmental awareness: Recycling waste

Let’s sort better to recycle more

Poubelles CERN
Recycling point near Building 156 on the Meyrin site (Image: CERN)

In the previous article in this series, we discussed conventional waste management at CERN and raised the topic of recycling. CERN’s recycling policy for conventional waste is based on sorting at the source. The sorted waste is collected either regularly or on demand when the volume exceeds a certain amount. It is then sent to various waste treatment facilities, where it is further sorted and treated.

What happens to CERN’s recycled waste?

CERN collects conventional waste in skips and bins, each dedicated to different materials. Some of these containers (mainly scrap metal) are processed at the Recuperation and Sales service operated by the SCE department to improve sorting, while others, such as paper and cardboard, are sent directly to different recycling pathways.

Some waste, like excavation waste, is handled directly by contractors and is not included in CERN’s recycling rate.

End-of-life equipment is often sent back to the suppliers and is thus integrated in a recycling pathway adapted to the specific components.

Information on where different types of waste end up can be found here. The entire list of materials recycled by CERN can be found here.

How many times can a typical commodity be recycled?

Most materials cannot be recycled indefinitely. Paper, for instance, can only be recycled about ten times. However, 1 tonne of wastepaper can produce up to 900 kilograms of recycled paper, while it takes more than 2 tonnes of wood to produce the same amount of new paper.

Some materials, on the contrary, are “infinitely recyclable”. This is the case for glass and metals such as steel and aluminium, for example. Although the processes may be both expensive and energy-demanding, recycling is highly beneficial for a circular economy. For example, recycling 1 kg of aluminium saves up to 95% of the primary energy invested for its production, and thus avoids the equivalent emissions of 9 kg of CO2.

Recycling challenges for CERN

The Canton of Geneva introduced a new waste management policy in 2021, setting a target of recycling 80% of all the waste generated by companies employing over 250 employees by 2025. The recycling rate for urban waste in the canton currently lies at 50% and the goal is to increase this to 60% by 2024.

CERN recently contracted a waste consultant to evaluate its waste management and make proposals as to how to increase the recycling rate, which amounted to 56% of total non-hazardous waste in 2018.

A particular challenge in this endeavour is to ensure proper sorting at the source. If some cardboard or paper collected in offices is soiled – for instance by a used paper coffee cup – the whole bin is likely to be “declassified” to non-recyclable. Therefore, CERN’s recycling performance strongly depends on the good-will and discipline of its collaborators.

CERN’s Tidy-up Week

In an effort to raise awareness of sorting recyclable materials, the Organization has launched “Tidy-up Week”, which will take place between 18 and 22 October. Read more about this event here.

A dedicated recycling campaign for computer equipment

The SCE department has, furthermore, launched a campaign to collect broken, obsolete and unused IT equipment. As part of the overall objective of reducing waste, the Recuperation and Sales service will either give equipment a new lease of life or recycle it properly.