Yale strives to be competitive in academics and athletics, but this semester it will be contending in an entirely different category: recycling.
Starting Jan. 28, the University will participate in RecycleMania, an annual 10-week contest in which over 130 colleges will attempt to maximize recycling while producing the least amount of waste. To encourage students to recycle in coming weeks, the Yale Student Taskforce for Environmental Partnership plans to host a RecycleMania rally at Beinecke Plaza, announce weekly trivia questions and give awards to Yalies “caught” recycling.
C.J. May, the head of Yale Recycling, said Yale has a mixed record on conservation, and he compared the University’s efforts to Clint Eastwood’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
“‘The Good’ is that we recycle more than 1,000 tons of paper and other items each year,” May said in an e-mail. “‘The Bad’ is that we throw out more than 5,000 tons of stuff each year, 40 percent of which is fully recyclable stuff that people simply chose not to recycle. ‘The Ugly’ is that Cantabs have a recycling rate of more than 40 percent, more than twice the 19 percent Bulldogs have.”
In last year’s RecycleMania, Yale ranked 29th of 43 schools in the “Grand Champion Competition” with an overall recycling rate of 19.83 percent, 34th of 85 in the “Per Capita Classic Competition,” and 25th of 43 in the “Waste Minimization Competition.” May said Yale has failed to excel in recycling due to insufficient personal effort on the part of students.
Tom Schnitzer ’10 also attributed Yale’s recycling deficiencies to a lack of student drive.
“It’s really great that the college makes recycling available, but not enough people take advantage of it,” Schnitzer said.
But some students said recycling program coordinators and University administrators could do more to encourage Elis to recycle. Asia Mernissi ’10 said although students are perfectly aware and willing to recycle, recycling instructions are often unclear or nonexistent.
“Recycling at Yale is really complicated and I never know what’s okay and what’s not, so sometimes recyclable things might get thrown out,” Mernissi said. “Sometimes there are things that just don’t go into either the ‘don’t recycle’ list or ‘recycle’ list.”
In some cases, Yale’s blue recycling bins become unwanted inconveniences. Lanman-Wright residents said they often use their blue recycling bins as storage devices or leave them outside because their rooms are too crowded to accommodate them.
Yale Student Environmental Coalition Co-chair Micah Ziegler ’08 suggested that recycling opportunities could be increased by placing bins next to outdoor trash cans.
“I believe that wherever there is a trash can, there should be recycling bins for mixed paper and bottles and cans,” Ziegler said. “People will almost undoubtedly recycle if it is convenient.”
Calhoun College STEP coordinator Dan Turner-Evans ’08 also suggested placing bright displays around trash cans and recycling bins, sending out weekly reminder e-mails and administering punishments and rewards for changes in recycling behavior.
“People need to think about recycling and to act every day, not just when we remind them with large events,” Turner-Evans said. “Recycling requires changes in behavior which can only come from constant reinforcement.”
In addition to promoting RecycleMania, Yale Recycling has begun testing a “Deskside Recycling Pilot Project,” asking custodians to pick up mixed paper from desk recycling bins twice a week.
“[The custodians] used to pick up only the trash twice per week, creating a substantial incentive for folks to toss everything into the trash bin,” May said. “The preliminary comparison between ‘before’ and ‘after’ analyses of the trash and recycling are very encouraging.”
Deskside Recycling resulted in great decreases in wasted paper when it was implemented for the Yale Press Building.
While May said it would be impossible to physically pick up after students, he hopes to make recycling a cultural norm on campus, a strategy which he said already works well in the suburbs.
“Once folks see that their neighbors put out their blue bins, they follow suit,” May said. “In the labyrinthine corridors of Yale buildings, however, the amount of recycling — the 1,000 tons — often goes unnoticed … If they could see how much their neighbors are doing it, whether in a dorm, an office or a lab, they might catch the wave and do it as well.”
And while Yale Recycling hopes to instill new habits and traditions into the student body, it builds fiercely upon an one old one as well. In addition to listing the benefits of recycling — less pollution, fewer greenhouse gases, and the conversion of wastes into industry resources — campus recycling leaders invoked Yale and Harvard’s age-old rivalry.
“Most importantly, recycling every item you have will help Yale trounce ‘That School in Cambridge’ in RecycleMania,” May said.