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Penn State Recycling Czar Retires

by on July 09, 2015 6:15 AM

Al Matyasovsky isn't only bidding farewell to his 3:30 a.m. mornings at Penn State's Office of Physical Plant where he has worked since 1984 and has spent the last three years as the program manager of OPP's Central Support Services.

"These are my boys," Matyasovsky said about his Central Support Services team as he pulled up to his office building in an OPP van on June 30 ― his last day as a Penn State employee before his retirement.

Matyasovsky and his tight-knit crews handle recycling and composting programs for the entire campus. But, together they have accomplished much more than their job descriptions.

"When Al came in we were just a basic labor force for the campus. But he has molded us into individuals, into leaders," says Jim Brown who has worked with Matyasovsky for about 20 years and considers him a father figure.

Back in 1995, University Park recycled 20 types of items, but today the number has grown to include 105 items. The university was also the first in Pennsylvania to recycle food waste after the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection changed the law in the state after Matyasovsky submitted a study piloted by Ali Demirci, a Penn State professor of agricultural and biological engineering.

In 2014 the National Recycling Coalition presented Penn State with its Outstanding Higher Education Award.

Another accomplishment for Matyasovsky lies in the story behind a humble token still on Matyasovsky's shelf on his last day in his nearly emptied office. It's a small piece of lumber made by Trex, a company that manufactures wood alternative decks and boards out of recycled wood, sawdust and plastic film.

In some places, plastic bags are not recyclable in the general plastic recycling bins, but at Penn State that is not the case. Because of Central Support Services' relationship with Trex, people can recycle plastic bags in on-campus plastic recycling bins. These plastic are then sent to Trex where they are made into the lumber like the piece on Matyasovsky's shelf.

"It's about having an intimate knowledge of the waste stream and then doing something about it," said Matyasovsky regarding outsourcing miscellaneous items like plastic bags and Styrofoam.

Matyasovsky also expanded the recycling program at Beaver Stadium in many ways including implementing a tailgating "blue bag" initiative, where volunteers hand out blue bags intended for recyclables to tailgaters.

This has helped the stadium nearly triple the amount of recyclables diverted from landfills according to the Environmental Protection Agency and earned the stadium a place in the top ten for managing waste at a large venue.

In 2009 Matyasovsky co-invented the ReDi Index, a waste-management tool for measuring solid waste efficiencies. The tool can tell a company how environmentally friendly its is.

Matyasovsky has made many other achievements in his position including consulting for West Point and the Pentagon, and even turning down an opportunity to lecture at the Oxford and Cambridge Club because an airplane ride across the Atlantic for a 20-minute speech didn't speak to his sustainable lifestyle.

Nadine Davitt, who is the current supervisor of recycling and refuse, will take over Matyasovsky's duties as the new supervisor of labor equipment and solid waste management.

"She's really at a point now where I feel she is ready to step off and handle virtually any challenge that would come her way," said Matyasovsky, who has spent the past few years mentoring Davitt.

"I wish my crew nothing but the best, it would sadden me if they didn't grow and didn't get better, but I have every confidence that they will grow and it will be much better than when I was here," he added.

In his retirement, Matyasovsky will continue to live with his wife just outside of Houtzdale, Pennsylvania, in a log cabin that the family built over three decades ago.

He will also continue to serve on the board of CentrePeace, a non-profit organization that provides Centre County inmates with a working environment and operates the largest used furniture-recycling project in the county.

Among many other things, he will also consult for some companies that are interested in becoming more sustainable and host more ReDi Index webinars.

Retirement will also leave Matyasovsky with more time to visit his three children and two grandchildren, and remodel parts of his home.

One thing is for sure ― Matyasovsky likes to stay busy and plans to continue to promote and adhere to a sustainable lifestyle.

"I'm looking forward to getting out there and doing some other things that are a little bit different than what I've been doing here, similar but different enough," Matyasovsky said while still reminiscing about the work he has done and friendships he has made over his 31 years working for Penn State.

 

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This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.
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