Letter: Yale fails sustainability education

Yale prides itself on its sustainability. It is, by many accounts, a recycler’s utopia. Yet there is a detail sorely lacking from most Yalies’ recycling education: most plastic items we recycle here are not recyclable outside The Bubble.

It is impressive that Yale invests in the facilities to manage substances like polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride. But this is wildly atypical for Americans. At my home (a suburb of Philadelphia), only polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high density polyethylene (HDPE) — numbers 1 and 2 if you look on the bottom of your plastic bottle — are recyclable. The same is true in New York, where I will be living next year. Yalies live in an uncommon environment, where nearly everything we touch can be recycled.

Recycling incorrect items incurs extra costs in manpower for sorting and in fuel for transporting trash to the correct location. Non-recyclables that slip through the cracks reduce the overall efficiency of the recycling process. Many townships impose a fine for attempting to recycle non-recyclables — and rightly so.

All this means that when I go home, I cannot recycle a milk carton. Solo cups are not recyclable either. Caps of soft drink bottles must be removed. Yale only tells us: If it’s plastic, throw it in a blue bin. This is unacceptable for sustainability in the real world, and thus does Yalies a disservice.

Yale must do a better job of educating Yalies about which items are usually not recyclable. I suggest posting lists of typically non-recyclable plastics in publicly accessible areas. We will still recycle these at Yale, but this way, when we leave campus, we will know to inquire about these borderline cases before damaging our environment. Only then can Yale achieve its goal of educating the modern, sophisticated, sustainable graduate.

Adam Bildersee

The writer is a senior in Branford College.


  • Yale 09

    I recycle.

    I recycle my clothes after I wear them.

    I recycle glass dishes after I eat off of them.

    I recycle my car after driving.

    How? By not discarding them.

    However, I DO NOT recycle things which have no value to me: paper plates, beer cans, milk jugs, newspapers.

    I toss them into the trash.

    I returned my recycling bin to Yale facilities.

    The amount of resources spent collecting, washing, re-furbishing, re-making products out of recycled goods results in a net loss to the environment and the economy because there is no real market for old newspaper and beer cans.

    There is a market for the gold, copper and mercury in old computers, which is why I do recycle those- for $$$.

  • Anonymous

    There is a market for old newspaper and beer cans…. It's not as if recycled materials sit in a wood pulp or aluminum warehouse somewhere, manufacturers buy materials back to make new cans, or paper products. Recycling would be impossible (and useless) if there weren't a market for the materials.

    How is recycling damaging to the economy? It is a huge business. It creates jobs, and prevents us from having to send money overseas to buy lumber, oil, metal, and other recycled materials. When you throw away your milk jug, we have to pay for foreign oil to produce a new one.

    Do you think that among all the hundreds upon thousands of recycling projects in this country, nobody has done an environmental impact assessment to see if it's worth it to recycle that newspaper, or beer can, or milk jug? There wouldn't be a vast, collective recycling impetus if it were environmentally destructive. What's more, these are finite resources; we're going to run out of oil to make plastic. There will be a day, not outside of the forseeable future, when we do not have enough crude oil to meet our needs for plastics and fuels. Where will we derive these materials if we aren't recycling what we already have made?

    It's true that we should first be reducing our consumption, and then reusing the products we have, and only finally recycling them into new products. Recycling is the most energy expensive option. But to say that recycling results in a net loss to the environment and economy is simply false.

    I think your comment is symptomatic of a greater minority antagonism to recycling. I'm not quite sure why some people feel this way… i would appreciate if someone would give me an answer. I sincerely doubt all of these people are under the same false impressions that you are, because they are simply illogical.

  • Yale10

    Actually, Yale09, aside from being unbelievably arrogant and pathetically narrow-minded, you're also misinformed.

    First of all, you do not recycle your dishes, your clothes, and your car. You reuse them. Recycling materials means reprocessing them for use in, basically, a new life cycle.

    Secondly, there is a very active market for empty beer cans, as well as other aluminum products. The aluminum can recycling process saves 95% of the energy required to manufacture aluminum from bauxite ore.

    Recycling paper is most definitely a net gain for the environment - recycling a ton of paper (rather than manufacturing a ton of paper from newly-felled trees) saves about 7,000 gallons of water and saves enough energy to power the average American home for six months (source: EPA.)

    I'm glad you're so pleased with yourself, but next time why don't you spare the rest of us and stick to what you know.

  • CJ May

    Although the writer may be correct that Yale's recycling program may create confusion for seniors moving on to other locations, he targets his criticism inappropriately. At Yale Recycling we hope that he and other graduates will find the differences between our campus program and those in future employment locations to be provocation for pushing the envelope there. Yale has taken its hits from folks on the west coast. They complain that Yale did not recycle as much as they did back home and they advocate for us to expand our program. If the writer does move to a location that does not recycle as much as Yale he may play a vital role in pushing the envelope. What he learned at Yale, that greater recycling is possible and economically-supportable, will spread. Curtailing our program to match those of other institutions and cities might reduce the confusion he professes. However, if such a move had been taken by the Wright Brothers upon discovering the technology of flight we might still be without the airplane. A good chef and successful restaurant don't make their food worse for fear of confusing patrons who might also frequent other restaurants. They improve their menu and, with luck, the quality spreads.

    CJ May
    recycling coordinator

  • Yale 08

    I don't recycle my trash because my time is too precious for me to spend it sorting such items into different containers. I never criticize those who do recycle, but environmentalists point accusing fingers at us nonrecyclers. In environmentalists' eyes, those who unquestioningly disregard the value of one resource (time) in order to spend it on the conservation of other resources (wood, plastic and glass) are righteous while those of us who value and conserve time are sinners.

  • Yale 09

    Responding to above critics:

    But why do I treat clothing and dinner dishes differently than I treat empty beer cans and old newspapers? The student who walked out on me sees that as a moral failing. I don’t.

    No moral issue turns on recycling. It might be immoral to waste things, but contrary to popular misconception, failure to recycle every physical item is not wasteful. Real waste happens when someone recycles without weighing the benefits against the cost, especially the time required to recycle.

    If it’s immoral to waste, then it’s immoral to recycle when the benefits of doing so are less than the value of the time it takes to do so. It would indeed be wasteful for me to discard my fine china after each use. So I don’t do it.

    But I do discard paper plates – for the same reason I recycle my china rather than discard it: it would be wasteful to do otherwise. After all, I could recycle paper plates. Careful washing would enable me to reuse each paper plate two or three times. But valuable time and labor would be wasted. Time I could spend playing with my son, reading a book or fixing a leaky faucet would be wasted cleaning paper plates. And to what purpose? Paper plates are expendable precisely because the materials used to manufacture them are so abundant. This abundance is reflected in their low price.

    If the materials used to manufacture any items become sufficiently scarce, the prices of those materials will rise. These higher input prices will raise the prices paid by consumers for these items, giving consumers greater incentives to recycle them.

    Reflecting on the impressive amount of recycling that actually takes place daily casts doubt on the prevailing misperception that Americans are naturally wasteful and mindlessly irresponsible. In fact, market prices compel us to recycle when recycling is appropriate – and to not recycle when recycling is inappropriate. I’d like to see that logic applied to all environmental pursuits.

  • Response to Yale 09

    The question of whether to reuse a paper plate, or to recycle it (there is a difference- just use a dictionary my friend) is separate from the point I want to address below.

    The fact that you see everything in terms of "SSS" is truly disconcerting. Your evaluation of everything in terms of its monetary value leaves you incredibly close-minded and limited in your judgment. Not all decisions should solely hinge on whether or not the market price for an item supports your expenditure of time and/or labor. You mention playing with your son: will you sacrifice that time if it means more money made out on the trading floor? If your answer is yes, you have a problem.

  • Veritas


    It's about marginal returns!

    If giving up 1 minute of time with my son, earns me $10 million. OF COURSE I'LL DO THAT!.

    The price system is not simply some greedy capitalist institution bonding everyone in materialism. The price system is primarily one of INFORMATION. A skilled analyst can skip the newspapers and CNN, and simply look at the markets to determine what is going on in the world.

    Likewise, there is ZERO market for the things we put in blue recycling bins. Most of the incentives for that recycling come from heavy government subsidies and false moral posturing by greens.

    Meanwhile, back in reality, I will recycle valuable materials: gold, silver, platinum, copper. NOT a day old YDN printed on paper.

    But I shouldn't expect the typical Yale student to understand things like marginal rates, opportunity cost and scarcity.

  • Tara Piscatelli

    Not recycling and being educated about it is one of the most ignorant things someone can do. Time isn't wasted when you think about how much time we're losing because we're destroying our environment. You don't have to make an effort, New Haven recycles plastics 1-7 so it shouldn't that be hard to either find a receptacle or take a few seconds to toss your recyclables into a recycling bin.

    Stop rationalizing your arrogant, warped views about recycling by putting monetary values on them, how selfish can you be? Does it make you that happy to go against the grain, anger people, and break the law just to make an invalid point? I shouldn't expect you to understand things like sustainability and legality though.

    I'm not even a Yale student, I'm a freshman biochemistry major at Temple University, but I grew up in West Haven and attended Sound School in New Haven. I'm proud of New Haven for at least having those laws in place. Philadelphia's recycling contributions are pathetic, but due to high crime rates, low employment rates, poverty and homelessness, many people are uneducated and do not consider it a priority.

    I didn't leave this comment to criticize though, I'm leaving it because environmentalism is one of my passions and I can't do enough for it. I'm proud to be vegan, buy local food, practice the three R's, and go out of my way to take a bottle out of the trash and walk a mile to recycle it. Extreme? Not to me, it's part of who I am and I don't even think twice about it.

  • Yale 08


    Please leave your fake moral posturing at the door.

    Show me how recycling produces a net benefit to all parties involved.