Recycling now at a desk side near you

A new cooperative effort between students and University officials launched last year aims to beat energy consumption, resource depletion, pollution — and Harvard.

Yale Recycling, the Yale Office of Sustainability and the Student Taskforce for Environmental Partnership have partnered to boost a new desk-side recycling system designed to place Yale’s recycling rate on par with those of peer institutions by making recycling more convenient for students and University officials, Cyril May, the head of Yale Recycling, said.

Librarian Jerry Little puts paper in a recycling bin. The University has recently implemented plans to increase the percentage of waste that is recycled here.
Ming-Yee Lin
Librarian Jerry Little puts paper in a recycling bin. The University has recently implemented plans to increase the percentage of waste that is recycled here.

Yale currently recycles at half the rate of Harvard — 19 percent to 40 percent, May said. “Recycling rate” refers to the percentage of solid waste that is recycled each year.

Despite administrators’ enthusiasm about the new program, however, student reactions to the new initiative and other recycling projects seem lukewarm, project coordinators said.

The University began expanding the pilot project at the end of last month, installing recycling bins at individual desks within all offices on Yale’s campus for the first time. Under the new desk-side system, all office desks on campus are being equipped with a mixed-paper recycling bin in addition to a trash bin, both of which are emptied regularly by the custodial staff. Waste Stream analyses suggest that 21 percent of Yale’s “trash” is actually recyclable mixed paper — so offering an accessible way to recycle that 21 percent would drastically improve Yale’s recycling rate, almost tying Harvard’s, May said.

May said the project is a natural addition to Yale’s sustainability efforts.

“Yale has committed itself so strongly to sustainability that it said now is the time to make that change,” he said. “I think that’s a wonderful commitment.”

Robert Ferretti, the Education and Outreach Manager of the Sustainability Office, said the new program is the “single biggest development” ever in recycling at Yale.

The Sustainability Office and Yale Recycling began a test run of the project at the Hall of Graduate Studies and the Yale University Press building over the summer, May said. After its successful implementation in those buildings, administrators decided to expand to the medical school, and Ferretti said he hopes all office desks on campus will be fitted out with bins by the end of the semester.

Response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic among faculty and staff, some of whom have been so eager that they have called the Sustainability Office to ask when the bins will be available, Ferretti said.

Yale’s improvements in recycling last year were encouraging, May said. The University threw out about 6,186 tons of trash but recycled over 1,000 tons of the waste during the 2006-’07 fiscal year, he said. About 19 percent of Yale’s trash was recycled last year, but if Yale had recycled the 1299 tons of mixed paper that ended up in the trash, May said Yale would have raised its rate to 38 percent.

The effort to recycle is far from over, and Yale has not reached a satisfactory level of recycling, he said.

“It’s been very frustrating for us, especially since Harvard usually hovers between 40 and 50 [percent of waste recycled],” May said.

Ferretti said the new initiative is only part of a wide-ranging University effort to encourage students to recycle.

During the annual Spring Salvage, the Sustainability Office collects discarded belongings — including furniture, clothing, and even Christmas decorations — as students move out of their residential colleges and donates the goods to local charities, he said. Last year the University collected about 55 tons of material — valued at about $88,000 — during the event, he said.

“Students really rally behind it and do a good job,” he said.

Yale also participates in RecycleMania, an annual competition in which universities compete for the highest recycling rate, Ferretti said. He said Yale consistently ranks near the middle, usually below Harvard, Ferretti said.

STEP co-director John Hinkle ’09 said the organization has been working to facilitate recycling in individual dorm rooms.

“Probably the most effective thing we’ve done is facilitate the recycling in students’ rooms,” he said.

STEP members distribute a blue recycling bin to each suite, and battery buckets and techno scrap bins — in which students dispose of unwanted electronics — are placed in various locations around campus, Hinkle said.

But not all students are receptive to the group’s efforts, other coordinators said.

While some students are environmentally conscious and excited about STEP’s efforts, STEP coordinator Chris Termyn ’10 said he has noticed an overall lukewarm student reaction towards recycling among Yalies.

May said he has also noticed a less than enthusiastic response from some students. But he said he thinks the lack of excitement, especially among college-age students, is not surprising.

“Most people assume that everyone [at that] age would be rabid recyclers,” he said. “Actually, the generation at Yale right now is less interested in recycling [than older generations.] It’s just not sexy, it’s not the hot topic, it’s not terrorism, and it’s not going to get you a job.”

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