The University has not disclosed campus recycling data since spring 2022 due to a misunderstanding concerning the data provided by Waste Management — the company responsible for the University’s trash and recycling — according to Jessica Berry, director of the Office of Sustainability.
In an email to The Herald, Berry explained that for multiple years, the tonnage number provided by Waste Management pertained to recycling collected and not recycling processed. This meant that the data included waste from recycling trucks that was deemed contaminated and sent to landfills, not just the waste actually recycled. "This is a major disappointment for us, as you can imagine," she wrote.
Due to the nature of the data provided by Waste Management, the University does “not have confidence in historic trash and recycling-related data,” Berry wrote. Since making this discovery, the Office of Sustainability has refrained from reporting on these metrics, she added.
“It also hinders our ability to understand Brown's needs when it comes to increasing diversion rates," Berry wrote. Diversion rates signify the amount of waste diverted from landfills and incineration.
“Waste Management has a reporting practice that was not transparent to Brown,” Berry wrote. “They are working with us on providing the specific data we need.”
While other waste vendors exist in the region, the University relies on Waste Management because most companies are not large enough to meet its needs, Berry added. “Waste Management is a large enough entity (that) it can supply Brown with the requirements it needs in regard to volume, events, materials, etc.”
Garrett Trierweiler, Waste Management director of public affairs, wrote in an email to The Herald that the University has reported no issues with the company. While Waste Management reached out to the Department of Facilities Management, “it is our understanding that they spoke with the sustainability office and both agreed there was no issue with Waste Management,” Trierweiler wrote.
Berry disputed Waste Management’s account of its communications with the University. According to Berry, the University has repeatedly asked Waste Management for more specific data on recycling amounts.
In a joint interview, Berry and Donna Butler, senior director of custodial services for Facilities Management, outlined this discrepancy in communication. Although Waste Management did not provide the Office of Sustainability with the desired recycling processed data, Waste Management might have misunderstood these concerns because they provided data about the recycling collected that was factually accurate, Berry explained.
“No one did anything wrong, there was just a misunderstanding about what data we were getting,” she added.
Butler said that steps are being taken to ensure that the University receives the information it needs going forward. “We are not letting it go unattended,” she said.
Butler also highlighted the University’s partnership with Waste Management. “They have been very cooperative,” she said, adding that the University and the company have been meeting monthly to discuss improvements on recycling data.
The experience has caused Berry to consider “how other institutions are reporting their waste diversion rates,” she added, reiterating the difference between recycling collected and recycling processed.
“The historical practices of waste data reporting is generally a standard practice in the industry, but Brown is looking for a way to more accurately understand the amount of material being recycled,” she wrote. “If organizations like Brown push to request more accurate data, the industry will respond with a solution to provide that data.”
The University’s reporting of recycling tonnage is expected to be reinstated in 2024, Berry said. According to Butler, the predicted timeline accounts not only for the necessary procedural changes on data reporting, but also for enacting measures to reduce the amount of recycling that ends up in landfills.
According to Berry, a new system is being envisioned. With Waste Management, the University has switched to an online platform to access data and they expect to address the particulars of the data being captured on that system at the beginning of next year, she said.
“Making changes to that platform is a larger corporate discussion,” Berry added. “We are hoping they are amenable to that.”
Julia Vaz is a senior staff writer covering the environment. She is a sophomore from Brazil studying Political Science and Literary Arts.