Campus & Community

University recycles half its trash for first time

3 min read

Harvard achieves latest in series of recent green gains

Harvard’s University-wide recycling rate topped 50 percent for the first time ever in October, the latest in a series of recycling gains that University Operations Services Supervisor of Waste Management Rob Gogan said are not over.

Increased awareness and participation across campus have resulted in steady improvement in recent years, Gogan said. As recently as 2002, 34 percent was the monthly record. A year ago, in October 2006, Harvard recycled 46 percent of its waste, while November 2006 was the previous record-holder at 49.9 percent.

“Harvard is a big ship, sometimes it takes five years for us to correct our course,” Gogan said.

Gogan said he expects continued gains over October’s 50.53 percent rate in November and December. It is possible, he said, that the last six months of 2007 will wind up being the first six-month period during which the University recycles more than 50 percent of its waste. Gogan has scheduled a “Recycling Appreciation Breakfast” at Harvard’s Events and Information Center at Holyoke Center on Dec. 6 at 8 a.m. to celebrate reaching the 50 percent recycling milestone.

An aggressive emphasis on recycling and re-using surplus equipment, including desks, filing cabinets, and furniture, may have provided the incremental gain that pushed Harvard over 50 percent in October, Gogan said. Instead of throwing out old office equipment in advance of renovation projects, Gogan said, there’s increased awareness that the material can be donated and re-used, making a significant dent in Harvard’s waste stream.

Comparisons with recycling amounts in the early 1990s show how far the University has come. In the 1989-90 fiscal year, Harvard recycled just 0.5 percent of its waste, generating 25 kilograms of garbage per person per month. In October, Harvard generated just 17.25 kilograms of garbage per person.

An annual waste audit, conducted Nov. 12 on the Science Center lawn, showed that there’s plenty of room for the recycling totals to grow. Students involved in the Harvard Green Campus Initiative’s Resource Efficiency Program examined a sampling of Harvard trash, opening garbage bags and cataloging their contents. The waste audit showed that 37 percent of the waste being thrown out could have been recycled. While that’s better than last year’s 48 percent, room for improvement remains.

Gogan said he believed a University-wide 60 percent recycling rate is relatively easily attainable through better application of existing programs. Gogan said the University is exploring use of “single stream” recycling, in which all recyclables are put in a single container and separated in later processing, which may boost recycling rates through convenience of use.

After that, reducing the remaining 40 percent of Harvard’s trash may take more significant changes in how Harvard obtains, uses, and disposes of resources. Procedures may have to be rethought with the aim of reducing waste and easing other impacts on the environment.

“Waste, by definition, is an extravagant use of our natural resources,” Gogan said.

A “Recycling Appreciation Breakfast” will be held at Harvard’s Events and Information Center, Holyoke Center, 1350 Mass. Ave., on Dec. 6 at 8 a.m.