On Saturday, Blue and Crimson will face off in this year’s epic contest of football prowess. What all Yalies should remember is that they are already involved in a game against the Cantabs. The scores from last year’s contest between the populations of both campuses are in and, recycling-wise, they don’t look good.
Yale and Harvard tracked their recycling and trash generation through last academic year. The bare-bones result is that the Cantabs trounced us in recycling, and we barely bested them in waste reduction. Last year, Yale recycled 18 percent of its trash. This is good, but nothing in comparison to Harvard’s 38 percent recycling rate. When it comes to comparing how much trash we produced per person, Yalies came in better but only through a photo finish. Each Yalie produced 554.83 pounds of trash last year whereas each Cantab produced 555.26 pounds. We won the garbage reduction part of the contest, but not by much.
So, how did they do it? How did a bunch of scarlet-clad book-obsessed folks from “that school in Cambridge” kick us in the dumpster? How did they recycle more than 340 pounds per person while we came in only at 125 pounds per person? Just as with sports, we have to look at the stats:
Like the Clint Eastwood movie, we have “the Good, the Bad and the Ugly” when it comes to comparing Bulldogs and Cantabs in recycling. On the good side, we kicked them thoroughly in cardboard recycling. Our population is about two-thirds of theirs, but we recycled 576 tons to their 448. On the bad side, however, they creamed us in paper recycling. We recycled 588 tons of paper last year; Cantabs did more than 2,000 tons. They also did more cans and bottles than we did: 362 to 106 tons. No comment on why they have more bottles to recycle. On the whole, comparing these basic recyclables, they bested us only by 4 percent.
It gets to the “Ugly” part of the comparison when we look at the organic discards. Some of the Ugly is us not measuring up to our rival. Some is because they play the game differently. For example, we logged only 65 tons of organics last year. These are leaves we brought to composting. We trimmed our lawns nice and short and left the trimmings in place so that they could add to the soil right where they were. Along with leaves, Harvard carted off the lawn trimmings to a composting facility, fattening up their stats. Then again, we had only begun food waste composting (no data) but they collected more than 300 tons of leftover burgers and such. Further, they composted their animal bedding to the tune of 914 tons last year. Yale animal bedding composting: zero tons. Add these three up and they smack us in organics for 2,078 tons to our 65. This may get better when the Sustainable Food Project cranks up its food waste composting operation in a year or so, however.
The Ugliness continues when we get to “Other” recyclables. Last year, Yale recycled and donated computers, and donated furniture and clothing collected during move-out in May to bring our “Other” total up to a respectable 169 tons. Their total, however, is a monstrous 706 tons. Harvard’s donation program for furniture and year-end collection program during student move-out make up most of this. They also have a considerable scrap metal program (100 tons), and wooden pallette program (80 tons).
Pack all of this information together, and it looks like both the players and the coaches at Yale could use some improvement when it comes to recycling. By players, I mean each of us individually. If we are to trounce them in our paper recycling, all of us need to actually put our paper in the paper recycling bins. We need to put our cans and bottles in the bins for cans and bottles. These are programs already in place. We just need more folks to play the game.
The coaches, in terms of recycling, are myself and the other members of the Yale administration who manage trash and recycling. We see the plays Harvard uses to make points and we are working to match them: scrap metal, wooden pallettes, lumber, food waste, animal bedding. When we are fielding programs for all of same items, Harvard will no long have the advantage. And when all of us as players in the year-round game score points with each can, bottle and paper, the Cantabs will be in the dumpster.
C. J. May F&ES ’89 is Yale’s recycling coordinator.