Yale Bulletin and Calendar

April 12, 2002Volume 30, Number 25

Yale Recycling staff members Casey Knittel '01, Christopher Ammon '03, C.J. May FOR '89 and Madeleine Meek '04 sort through trash during a "dumpster diving" session last month. Technically called "waste stream analysis," this sorting of the trash allows staff to determine how much of Yale's garbage is actually recyclable. On average, about 50% of what is found in the trash can be recycled, says May, who has headed Yale's recycling efforts since 1990.

In Focus: Yale Recycling

Office urges good stewardship of the environment

Yale's recycling coordinator C.J. May confesses that he and his staff are not above resorting to a little bit of buffoonery -- or even "bribery" -- to make an impact on people.

This determination is immediately evident as May -- wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the words "Talk Trash to Me" -- strides around the basement office in Welch Hall that is home to the undergraduate Yale Student Environmental Coalition and where he and his staff conduct their business.

May and other employees of the Recycling Department wear second-hand T-shirts and sweatshirts bearing a number of attention-grabbing slogans as part of their mission to get Yale students and staff to recycle more and throw away less. Their recycled clothing (bought at the Salvation Army) is a testament to their commitment to that cause -- as is the Welch Hall office itself, which is furnished with second-hand furniture and a variety of items saved from the trash, including several stuffed animals.

As for "bribery," May admits he and other Yale Recycling Department staff have enticed students with organic chocolate candy or brownies, as well as gifts of recycled notebooks and pencils, to get them to listen to a spiel on the merits and how-to's of recycling. Then there is the weekly Green Cup competition between residential colleges -- initiated by the Student Environmental Coalition as part of Yale's overall recycling effort -- which carries a weekly award of $100 and end-of-the-year awards of up to $1,000 for the colleges with the best recycling records.

May also recalls with laughter an occasion last year when student members of his staff pedaled a bike around campus dressed as clowns -- an automatic attention-getter -- as they urged classmates to recycle.

"You've got to be creative in this business," acknowledges May. "We're always thinking up new things to do to get people to recycle. We don't want to be self-righteous when we talk to people. Rather, if we go about it in ways that are fun, we can be disarming."

There are two main reasons why recycling is important, notes May: First, it is crucial to the health of the environment, he says. Second, it is the law in Connecticut.

Yale's first efforts at recycling began in 1970, when a group of environmentally conscious undergraduates formed an ad hoc student recycling program. In 1980, the group became a formal undergraduate organization. May joined the group in 1988 while he was a student at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. At the time, he recalls, student volunteers drove around in "a beaten-up truck that looked like something the Beverly Hillbillies would have." They loaded newspapers, office paper, cans, bottles and other recyclables from all over campus into the truck and hauled the material to processors in the area. May took part in the student effort until he graduated in 1989.

In 1991, a Connecticut law was put into effect which mandated the recycling of specific items, including various kinds of paper, glass and metal food containers, corrugated cardboard, leaves and waste oil. It was apparent that the volunteers in the student group would be unable to handle the job of collecting Yale's huge volume of recyclable items, as required by the new law. So May was invited to return to campus in 1990 with the responsibility of formalizing a new recycling program.

Under the new program, custodians and dining hall workers became responsible for collecting recyclable items in campus buildings. Grounds Maintenance staff then collects the recyclables from large bins located in or outside of buildings and delivers them to a variety of distributors and processors in the area.

In the 12 years since the new law went into effect, May has focused some of his efforts on what he describes as the "three components" of a recycling program: "education, education and education." More recently, he and his staff have redoubled those efforts in a recycling education campaign. Assisting May with that task are two recent Yale graduates, Casey Knittel '01 and Ariane Kirtley '01, who worked for the Recycling Department as undergraduates, and the department's education coordinator, Bukola Hammed-Owens '02. In addition, about 60 students are paid for their work in a variety of positions in the department. Included in this number are Green Cup coordinators, the students in the residential colleges who serve as both "cheerleaders" and organizers of their college's weekly Green Cup recycling competitions.

"The biggest challenge of maintaining a working recycling program at a place like Yale is to get people to know how to recycle -- what is recyclable and where the various recyclable items should go -- and to know why recycling is important in their daily lives," May says. "There is the added complication that every town in the area has its own rules -- some collect glossy paper, for example, while others do not -- so we must continually inform staff about how things are done here on campus."

Last year at Yale, students and staff recycled more than 1,100 tons of items, including 523 tons of paper, 364 tons of cardboard and 125 tons of cans and bottles. While that figure may seem impressive, more can still be done, says May, noting that approximately 50% of what makes its way into the trash at Yale can actually be recycled.

There is only one way to learn how well Yale students and staff are recycling, and that is to actually dig through the trash, better known in the Yale Recycling Department as "dumpster diving."

Every few weeks, May and student workers don protective gear (called Personal Protection Equipment) and unload trash bags -- weighing about 100 pounds, on average -- from a particular dumpster. They then investigate the trash to see how much of it could be recycled. During a recent "dumpster diving" session on Old Campus, the recycling staff discovered that 45% of the trash could be recycled. Much of this was office paper, newspapers and cardboard.

May believes that many people at Yale have a great concern for the environment, and thus, improving the campus recycling volume is sometimes simply a matter of pointing out the areas where they could do better. For example, students sometimes rush out of the dining halls carrying plastic drinking cups with them. Often, these end up in the trash. "Last year, 35,000 cups were not returned," says May. "It cost the University $20,000 to replace them. Students are always amazed when we point this out to them."

As part of his department's campaign to improve recycling on campus, May sends weekly e-mails to business managers with tips, news about recycling and periodic exhortations. He might remind them, for example, of the Recycling Department's SWAP program, in which unwanted office furniture and other equipment is donated to nonprofit groups in the area that have put in specific requests. The department also collaborates with the Office of New Haven and State Affairs and the Yale Macintosh Users' Group to distribute working computers to nonprofits in the New Haven community. Computer components that cannot be repaired are sent to processors which grind metals so they can be reused.

Last year, the Recycling Department collected some 365 bags of clothing, 118 wooden chairs, 100 packages of linen, 85 computer monitors, 69 desktop computers and 60 boxes of books for reuse. Filing cabinets, metal and other chairs, wooden desks, lamps, shelves, bed frames and carpets are among the other items the department passed along under the SWAP program.

With the proper kind of nudging, May believes, most people on campus can become committed recyclers. Therefore, he and the Recycling Department staff try to make the process as easy as possible. During reading week last spring, for example, a "Trash Bash" was held on Old Campus so students could dispose of unwanted -- but recyclable -- items in their dorms before leaving for their summer breaks.

Likewise, despite the Recycling Department's oft-used slogan which declares "Sorry, there are no elves to recycle for you," there have been occasions when its student staff members have put in extra effort on behalf of their peers.

Such was the case recently at Branford College, which had consistently finished last in the Green Cup competition. As an experiment, the Green Cup coordinators in Branford College began picking up recycling bins from student rooms and carting them downstairs to empty them, thereby saving time-pressed students from that chore. As a result, the college came in first in the contest that week for recycling the most. That success has led May and his staff members to consider continuing the practice in the dormitories.

May acknowledges, however, that regardless of the ease, it does take extra time to recycle.

"I spend 15 minutes each Wednesday putting out the cans, bottles, foils, paper and cardboard at my own house," he says. "It would have taken me five minutes to put it all in a trash bin."

Because of the additional time it requires, May is often asked, "Is recycling really worth the bother?"

He answers with an emphatic "yes," countering some recent reports that the economic benefits of recycling are marginal or even negligible.

"Yale saves about $40 for each ton of paper and cans and bottles it recycles," he says. "It saves about $70 for each ton of cardboard it recycles. But the benefits go beyond that," states May.

"Recycling reduces pollution," he continues. "This societal benefit does not show up on any government's budget sheet. If fewer children suffer from asthma or fewer people get lung cancer, this goes unnoticed by the average economist. Recycling also reduces the depletion of renewable resources and such finite resources as old-growth timber and aluminum."

If these factors were measured by economists, there would be no debate about the value of recycling, says May, noting, "Modern economists -- and all of us -- would do well to remember the words spoken by an earlier president, Theodore Roosevelt. He stated, 'The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.'"

For questions about recycling, contact C.J. May at (203) 432-6852 or visit www.yale.edu/recycling.

-- By Susan Gonzalez


Zedillo named head of Center for Study of Globalization

Other International Initiatives at Yale University

SOM Institute to explore how corporations are regulated by world's governments

Journalists covering Latin America will discuss the region's 'global reach'

HUD secretary to visit as a Chubb Fellow

Visiting architect describes his creative process

In Focus: Yale Recycling

Exhibition features art by 'consummate storyteller'

Peabody receives grant for Machu Picchu exhibit

Difficult quest for black education explored in forum

Noted psychologist Neal E. Miller, pioneerin research on brain and behavior, dies

Study estimates the likelihood of stroke in elderly patients who have had heart attacks

Biotechnology companies are thriving in Connecticut with help from Yale science

Lecture to explore how biomaterials 'will change our lives'

Conference on 'God and the Ethics of Belief' pays tribute . . .

Event to explore latest research on mental illness

Gustav Ranis reappointed as Henry R. Luce Director of YCIAS

'Hot Flashes' explores world of womanhood after 50

Museum spearheading annual cleanup of New Haven Harbor

At the powwow

Transatlantic polo

Campus Notes

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