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Trick or Trash! FGCU collecting used candy wrappers for recycling project that is going to the dogs

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Braun, Michael
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Candy wrappers are a sticky situation when it comes to protecting the environment. FGCU Environmental Health and Safety is offering a solution to the post-Halloween candy wrapper nightmare.

FGCU is participating in the nationwide recycling event “Trick or Trash.” The public can drop off their used candy wrappers in the FGCU Environmental Health and Safety Building, which is located next to the Campus Food Pantry, until Nov. 20 to give the wrappers another life.

This is happening across the U.S. through Kentucky based Rubicon Technologies.

According to Rubicon’s website, “The candy wrappers collected through Trick or Trash are mailed to our recycling processor. The recycling processor sorts and cleans the candy wrappers before the material is shredded and pelletized. The plastic from the candy wrappers is used to create doggy bags for local animal shelters.”

FGCU Sustainability Coordinator Kathleen Crawford found out about “Trick or Trash” through the organization Campus Race to Zero Waste (previously RecycleMania). “I jumped right on it,” Crawford said. “I think it’s another way of keeping candy wrappers out the waste stream. We do a campus litter cleanup once a month, and one of the number one things we pick up are plastic candy wrappers.”

“Anything that ends up on the ground here at FGCU does end up eventually making its way out into the water,” Crawford said. “The plastic doesn't biodegrade it just photodegrades into microplastics and then ends up in our stormwater system, which then gets carried out into the Estero Bay, and eventually out into the Gulf of Mexico. Anything that ends up on the ground ends up in the water, or it clogs our storm-water system, which then leads to flooding and less resiliency for our campus.”

Microplastics end up affecting our food chains because the fish are eating and absorbing the microplastics. According to National Geographic, “In laboratory tests, microplastics have been shown to cause damage to human cells, including both allergic reactions and cell death.”

According to the National Retail Federation, during the 2022 Halloween season Americans were expected to spend about $3 billion on candy. Americans purchase approximately 600 million pounds of candy a year for Halloween. The candy is a sweet treat, but the wrappers are a sour situation for landfills. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in 2018 containers and packaging made up 21% of trash going into landfills.

Candy wrappers are not recyclable because most of them are made from a combination of aluminum and plastic, and it’s difficult to separate the materials. The candy wrappers are made with the mixture of materials because it’s lightweight, which reduces the cost in shipping. The combination of materials also keeps the candy from sticking to the wrapping.

“There's this period of time for a week or so after Halloween where there's a tremendous amount of candy wrappers,” Chad Evers, an instructor with the FGCU Department of Ecology and Environmental Studies said. “There’s this massive amount of similar types of plastics that can then be sorted and processed and turned into something,” Evers said. The thing that a lot of people don't realize about those candy wrappers is that they're going to outlive you, and the candy wrappers are going to spend the rest of its life in a landfill.”

Senior Elsa Adamczyk plans on collecting her used candy wrappers and recycling them with “Trick or Trash.” “I think it's a really great idea, it's definitely creative, and it’s better than wrappers being all over campus,” Adamczyk said.

“We don’t have all these different recycling programs because we exist within Lee County,” Evers said. “We have to recycle what the county recycles and what the county takes. That’s our biggest limitation.”

Rubicon told Crawford because of limited resources they allow one free box to schools, businesses and community groups when she asked for more to place around campus. “We do have a problem with contamination in our recyclables across campus,” Crawford said. “I can keep an eye on it in the Environmental Health and Safety building and make sure that we're not getting paper products, aluminum, or just like random trash or food items.”

Senior Sean Kelley finds it easier to throw away the wrappers, but if there were more bins around campus then he would dispose the candy wrappers properly.

Crawford and Evers recommend storing the candy wrappers and bringing them all at once. Community members are welcomed drop off their used candy wrappers as much as they would like. People on campus can turn their sweet tooth into workout by making multiple trips to the drop off location.

“I think it’s important to remind people that even doing something small is better than doing nothing,” Evers said. “We may look at a handful of candy wrappers collected, but that's still better than not collecting any candy wrappers. If you save 10 candy wrappers those may have ended up in the wetlands. But now it's 10 candy wrappers that you know, are going to get recycled versus 10 candy wrappers, going into the environment. Anything you do is going to be better than nothing. So, you're still making a difference.”

Other companies collect hard to recycle items throughout the year. Subaru teamed up with TerraCycle, and they plan on creating park benches, picnic tables and playground equipment, which will be donated to community partners.

WGCU is your trusted source for news and information in Southwest Florida. We are a nonprofit public service, and your support is more critical than ever. Keep public media strong and donate now. Thank you. Katarina Yurjevich is a journalism student at FGCU.