At Yale, we have an army of student groups addressing the myriad demands of policy and practice needed to make a large campus environmentally friendly. We have “frozen local” green beans in the dining hall, articles praising an ultra-sustainable Kroon Hall and students balancing plates to save tray-washing water. The University is trying to be good to our planet. It’s a matter of pride. This is a good thing.
So why, when I took my trash down last week, was the recycling bin nearly empty and the trash full of beer cans? During the week of Jan. 24 our recycling rate — the percent of total waste recycled — was under 22 percent. That week, the average person on campus generated about 14 pounds of trash. This is pretty bad.
There’s the good and the bad. Ready for the ugly? You might want to sit down: When it comes to recycling, Harvard is beating us. RecycleMania is a 10-week competition that began in January. The concept is simple. 608 schools are ranked by the amount they recycle and the waste production per person. The winner, of course is the university sitting in first place on March 27.
But there’s time for us to rise from 181st place and good reasons to try to pull ahead.
First, there’s glory, of course. Last year, we got thoroughly trounced in campus recycling, coming in fourth place in the Ivy League. This year, we owe it to Old Blue to show off how green we can be. Though not as old as bladderball, recycling has been a part of Yale as long as women have: Yale Recycling was founded in 1970 by one of Yale’s first female students. Before he became president, our very own Richard Levin hired a local company to take care of his personal recycling when the city of New Haven had not yet begun collection of residential recyclables.
Of course, recycling has benefits beyond winning a competition. While it may not come as a surprise that recycling helps the planet, its impact can be hard to see, especially when our involvement ends with placing a can in the bin. But according to statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency, the energy required to recycle aluminum from cans is just 5 percent of that which is needed to make new aluminum from bauxite. And at Yale last year, the cans and bottles we recycled weighed 153 tons. Add that to 739 tons of mixed paper, 609 tons of cardboard and 46 tons of clothes, chairs and pillows collected during Spring Salvage and you realize we’ve saved a lot of trash.
Improving our RecycleMania scores isn’t that difficult but will require us to make recycling-conscious decisions for the next seven weeks. We need to ask ourselves if we can reuse something rather than throw it out and, if not, what bin it should go in. We should take the extra minute to take that tired sweater to the Eli Exchange bin when we do our laundry instead of throwing it out. These are small decisions, but if even half the people on campus started thinking this way, then we’d pull ahead of Harvard within the week. If we kept it up until March 27, we might even beat California State University-San Marcos, current frontrunner and last year’s champion — and more importantly, our habits might outlast the competition.
Ultimately, Yale will only be as sustainable as its students are. This is not a spectator sport. Yalies, it’s time to recycle: for glory, for earth and for Yale.
Laura Wellman is a sophomore in Davenport College and the Yale Recycling Events Coordinator.