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Recycle Almost Everything

But wait, it’s not a melting pot!

“Should that go in the trash or recycling?”

This is probably a question you ask yourself many times a day. While most of us understand the importance of recycling, it can sometimes get a little confusing in practice. HBS offers SingleStream recycling which means that all recyclables (plastic, glass, paper and metal cans) can go in the same recycling bin. While this makes it super convenient for us, rules tend to change as recycling facilities continuously expand what items are accepted at their plants. Thus, things that were once trash can become recyclable. For example, empty paper coffee cups and pizza boxes can now go into SingleStream recycling. These changes, which create more convenience for us and are beneficial to the environment, sometimes give us the illusion of “everything is recyclable,” an image that cannot be farther from the truth. (Paper towels and plastic bags remain as trash.) To understand how we can be more effective, efficient and responsible in recycling, a group of six HBS students coined as your Green Living Reps (3 RCs, 2 ECs and 1 Doctoral) joined the Director of Harvard Recycling and Reps from the Law School to visit the Casella recycling facility in Charlestown that has been serving the Harvard community for eleven years.

Sort, baby sort!
At the heart of the recycling plant, it was a complex web of conveyor belts that separated glass, metal, paper, cardboard and plastic. As recyclables were passed along the conveyor belts, glass bottles were crushed into pieces and dropped to the bottom layer. Plastic bottles and containers were recognized by an industrial size laser scanner. A powerful jet then created a targeted air lift strong enough to blow the plastic item off to another conveyor belt while leaving the rest for further sorting. Manual labor was heavily involved. The plant employed numerous workers to pick up “the undesirables:” plastic bags, polystyrene foam, batteries, bottles with too much liquid and miscellaneous household items such as electronics and computers. As explained by the plant managers, the more manual work involved, the more costly the process. Sometimes, the quality of the recycling is so poor that the factory needs to refuse the entire intake. The biggest culprit: plastic bags. Despite the recycling logo printed on many shopping bags, facilities do not accept them as recycling because they wreak havoc on machinery. Plastic bags are light and fluffy so they often float off the line and jam up the air suction and blowing appliances before they can get sorted and baled.

You can help!
As the plant manager took us to the loading dock with different recyclables neatly sorted, she gladly declared “this is my favorite part – to see everything ready for shipment.” It was stunning to see how much we can save by carefully disposing our daily items. We should recognize and remember that the best form of waste management is source reduction; not creating waste in the first place. For example, purchasing used items and carrying your own mug or bottle to Spangler. Inevitably, however, we all produce waste and so the question arises; how do we properly dispose of it? Aside from the common recyclables (paper and cardboard, plastic bottles, glass containers and metal cans) deciphering what is recyclable can get confusing. Below is a list of common items of question at HBS and how to properly dispose of them.

Paper coffee cups
Drink up your coffee or empty the cup. Recycle the whole thing- cup, sleeve and lid- in the SingleStream recycling bin. Green Tip- Bring your own mug.

Paper juice cartons
plastic milk containers & yogurt cups: Same thing… empty the container and recycle in SingleStream.

Pizza boxes
Remove food and recycle in SingleStream. Grease stains are OK.

Takeaway containers from Spangler
This requires just a bit more thinking…. Takeaway plastic clamshells- remove food and recycle in SingleStream. Takeaway paper clamshells- these are not recyclable but if left on the tray conveyer belt in Spangler they are composted in the kitchen. Otherwise they should go in the trash. Green Tip- Always use reusables when dining in Spangler.

Paper towels, napkins & tissues
Trash! These products are made with “wet-strength paper.” Their fibers have been chemically treated to stay together and not dissolve when wet, thus making them difficult to recycle. They are, however, composted by staff in the Spangler kitchen.

Paper with tape & staples
SingleStream! Tape, plastic windows on envelopes and staples are OK.

Plastic utensils, plastic wrap, plastic bags:
Trash these. The highly-dense, small plastic utensils are difficult for the facility equipment to identify and properly sort. Plastic wraps and bags clog the machinery. Green Tip- Use reusables!

Batteries- all types
These are highly toxic. Place in the batteries recycling bin in your dorm lounge or bring to the student mail center in Rock.

E-Waste
i.e. cell phones, PDAs, chargers & cords, CDs & DVDs, flash drives and ink cartridges. Also highly toxic. Recycle at the student mail center in Rock. Erase all sensitive data.

Computers & printers
First see if the manufacturer or store from which you purchased your equipment participates in take-back or trade-in programs. If not, contact your Green Living Rep to properly dispose of these highly toxic items via the help of Harvard Recycling. Harvard ensures that these items are taken apart and disposed of responsibly.

We should all do our part to reduce our own waste, first by source reduction and second by proper disposal. Thankfully, HBS Operations and Harvard Recycling make it easy for us to do just that. If you have any questions about reducing waste or other ways to live a greener life on campus, just ask your Green Living Rep!

February 7, 2011
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