Investigating the Presence and Makeup of Plastic Waste at Valparaiso University

Faculty Sponsor

Julie Peller


Arts and Sciences


Environmental Chemistry

Presentation Type

Poster Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 4-28-2022


Plastic maintains its presence throughout our daily lives due to its convenience, durability, and usability across industries, despite its significant negative impact on the environment and human health. Prior to our study, the plastic waste problem at Valparaiso University was widely unknown. This study aimed to analyze the waste stream in the Center for the Sciences (CFS), as well as complement a campus-wide waste audit focused on plastic content and composition. This was executed through a one-week waste audit of the CFS in conjunction with several lab analyses. Unknown plastic items were identified using Infrared Spectroscopy (IR), and further analyses were conducted using a Solid Phase Microextraction (SPME) and Gas Chromatography Mass Spectroscopy (GCMS) method to identify any additives present. After analysis, it was evident that the most common types of plastics were single use plastics. It was determined that the present practices of recycling on campus are inefficient and unsustainable, and that several common plastic types were frequently mishandled or contaminated with food. Campus-wide education and additional signage should be a priority in improving the plastic waste problem, with a focus on limiting single-use plastics and understanding their external costs.

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