University News

Dorms’ new recycling system adds ease, order

By
Senior Staff Writer
Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Office of Energy and Environment instituted a new single-stream recycling policy in residency halls this year, allowing paper, plastic, glass, aluminum and all other recyclable materials to be disposed of in the same large blue bins.
The new program is “trying to make it easier for students,” said Jeff Baum ’15, who worked for Facilities Management over the summer and is currently a member of the Brown Climate Action Forum.
The renamed recycling rooms are much more organized, Baum said. There are two sections of bins, one for landfill trash and one for recycled items. In the corner, there is a specific section for cardboard. In the previous recycling system, students were expected to sort their waste, but “recycling can be pretty messy,” Baum said.
Recycling cardboard earned Brown $53,370 in 2011, wrote Kai Morrell ’11, outreach coordinator for the Office of Energy and Environment, in an email to The Herald. On average, the University makes around $32,210 from recycled cardboard rebates. The reduced amount of trash also allows Brown to save $32,000 to $35,000 on tipping fees each year, Morrell wrote.
Morrell added that since Providence already operates on a single-stream recycling system, adopting it in dorms will better prepare students for moving off campus. But she said the University sees an increased value for its recyclables if streams are kept separate, so academic buildings still operate on the double-stream system.
EcoReps, a group that promotes sustainability and environmentally friendly practices on campus, began grading the recycling rooms on a monthly basis this year, looking through the bags to see if waste has been sorted correctly. Each recycling room is given a letter grade on a report card posted in the basement.
The new system has only been in place for a few months, but its enforcers are hopeful that there will be noticeable improvements. EcoReps will be tracking its grading system and the success of the program throughout the year.
Food contamination can pose a problem to recycling efforts. A greasy pizza plate can turn a bin full of recycling into unusable trash. This is one of the reasons single-stream recycling can be controversial, as “you get a higher volume of recycling, but a more contaminated load,” Baum said.
Other universities have found novel ways to deal with this issue. Baum cited the example of Clark University in Worcester, Mass., which hires 15 students to serve as recycling-sorters every semester. The recycling is so clean that it produces a high revenue for the University, and the money is used to pay those sorters.
“People would definitely want that job,” Ezra Lichtman ’15 said.  
“If people knew it was a student job, they might be more careful about sorting,” said Gabi Sclafani ’14.
Baum said Clark’s recycling system prompted him to think about how such a program could work at Brown.
“If you can put your ego above the fact that you’re sorting trash, it would really help keep the waste stream clean,” he said.
The Brown Climate Action Forum is involved in a number of other recycling and sustainability initiatives on and around campus. BCAF members have served as recycling consultants for the Thayer Street District Management Authority – a group of businesses located on the street, where there is currently no recycling.
The group is also working to promote increased recycling in satellite eateries. Baum praised the system in the Blue Room, noting the multiple bins and boxes filled with cups and containers that explain what can be recycled. BCAF is hoping to bring that system to both Josiah’s and the Ivy Room, where Baum said all waste is currently disposed of as landfill trash.
The group hopes these initiatives will “boost recycling rates a lot – because they are currently at zero,” Baum said, adding that Brown Dining Services is working with student groups to address these problems.
The group is also working to install energy-saving technologies around campus, including a low-flow urinal project. As urinals use two to three gallons of water per flush, the group wants “to replace some high-traffic urinals with waterless alternatives,” Baum said. He cited the Sciences Library urinal as an example – if replaced with a waterless option, the University would save 16,650 gallons of water a year, according to BCAF’s payback calculations.
Baum said the University is making strides with recycling and energy initiatives, and the city is in the process of developing an industrial compost system.  
“We are constantly evaluating whether or not composting would work at Brown,” Morrell said. As the city has already signed a contract to create a composting system, this is “something Brown can be a part of,” Morrell added, though no definitive decisions have been made.
“People assume they can throw whatever they want in the recycling bin and someone else will sort it, but we have to be really careful about creating a clean waste stream,” Baum said. “Anything that’s not recycled is a sign of inefficiency.”