Harvard took America Recycles Day to the next level on Monday (Nov. 15), choosing to use the day to celebrate the annual Mt. Trashmore tradition.  One day every fall, students and staff construct the pile, which represents one day’s trash from Harvard Yard.  The idea is to educate the Harvard community about the importance of waste reduction and recycling.

This year’s Mt. Trashmore was made up of about 300 bags of trash. The heap, about 10 feet high, was constructed by Green ’14 students in coordination with the FAS Green Program, Office for Sustainability, and Harvard Recycling. Green’14 is a group of Harvard freshmen dedicated to making the Class of 2014 the greenest ever. They estimated that if it weren’t for Harvard’s 55% recycling rate, Mt. Trashmore would have been 15 feet tall and more than twice the volume.

Days earlier, Harvard Recycling and students with the FAS Green program conducted Harvard’s 13th annual waste audit of undergraduate residences. The results showed that 25% of the trash could have been recycled – the lowest fraction of recyclables in the trash since the waste audits began in 1999. Last year, 32% of the sampled trash was recyclable.

Dressed in protective gowns, dust masks, goggles and gloves, auditors held their gag reflexes in check and separated the refuse into five categories:  single-stream recyclables (paper, cardboard, bottles, cans, cups and containers made of plastics 1-7); reusables; compostables; liquids; and other residuals (trash).  “Boxes, water bottles, and coffee cups were the most abundant recyclables I saw,” said Rob Gogan, recycling and waste services manager for Facilities Maintenance Operations.

The House Reuse Shelves expanded from four pilot Houses last year to all 12 Houses this year. That may be one reason for a reduction in reusables found in the trash, said Brandon Geller, undergraduate REP coordinator for the Office for Sustainability. He gave one example: “PfoHo’s Reuse Shelves are extremely active, with lots of clothing coming and going every week.”

The waste-audit results showed that Harvard can improve by focusing on recycling beverage containers, said Gogan. For one, coffee cups can now be recycled as part of Harvard’s singlestream recycling.

  • The Office for Sustainability’s October Green Tip of the Month focused on singlestream recycling, encouraging the community to improve our recycling rate.
  • To download the latest recycling signs for your office or department, click here.
  • Click here to view a photo slideshow of the 2010 Mt. Trashmore on OFS’ Facebook page.

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