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MIT makes environmental strides in recycling, purchasing

Thanks to the efforts of the MIT community, the Institute is making good progress on recycling and in purchasing more "green" products.

Since the beginning of the expanded recycling program last December, MIT's recycling rate has grown from 5 percent to just under 17 percent of its total waste. Purchasing of recycled products, particularly paper, also is growing as some of the largest buyers have switched from virgin to recycled stock.

These efforts have been spearheaded by the Environmental Programs Task Force, a group of Institute-wide representatives, including students, convened last fall by Jamie Lewis Keith, MIT's managing director for environmental programs and risk management, and senior counsel (see MIT Tech Talk, January 12, 2000).

"The goal the Task Force set for the recycling effort in 2000 is 30 percent of our total volume of waste. With the MIT community's support, the dedication of the Facilities Department and its custodial staff and our success so far, MIT should be able to achieve this goal, or maybe even exceed it, this year," Ms. Keith said.

To assist the custodial staff, Ms. Keith's office is getting a new recycling truck for Facilities to allow more frequent pickups from areas across the campus. "We really appreciate the participation of the custodial staff in MIT's recycling efforts and hope that the recycling truck will make their work easier and more efficient," she said.

The materials included in the 17 percent recycling rate are mixed paper, plastics #1-7, glass bottles and aluminum cans, cardboard, and compost from food preparation at a Walker Memorial pilot project. In terms of tonnage, paper represents MIT's largest recycled commodity, at about 54 tons per month.

The composting pilot project is managed by Richard Berlin, director of campus dining. Efforts also are underway to ensure that recycling is incorporated in most catered and large events at MIT.


Recycling has become easier at MIT for several reasons. New bins for paper and for "commingled" recyclables (plastics, glass bottles and cans) were distributed to indoor public areas last December. Also, new outdoor bins for commingled items were placed next to regular trash bins around the campus.

Another important change is that nearly all types of mixed paper can be put in deskside and common-area paper recycling bins. Before December 1999, MIT's paper recycling was restricted to white paper only. Colored paper, newspapers and magazines, envelopes and even Post-It notes and carbonless forms can now be recycled.

In addition to the recycling by MIT employees in their offices and labs, Facilities recycles (on a monthly basis) more than 35 tons of yard waste from grounds maintenance and about five tons of metal. (These recycling efforts are in addition to the 17 percent rate noted earlier and, with other miscellaneous recycled materials, raise MIT's overall recycling rate to 23.5 percent.)


The Procurement Department and Office Depot, the Institute's partner company for office supplies, are working to make recycled and other more environmentally responsible products readily available to MIT buyers. For example, last month's small-scale vendor fair featured recycled products and drew hundreds of interested community members.

Earlier this year, Judith Bean of Procurement identified and coordinated testing of recycled papers and then worked with Office Depot to acquire these papers at very competitive pricing and to highlight them on the electronic catalog (ECAT) for ordering.

The Athena clusters, one of the largest users of paper on campus, recently have switched to recycled stock.

"We started by ordering 10 cases of the 30 percent recycled paper, and when we didn't have any problems with that, we decided to try the 50 percent recycled stock," said Brian Murphy, team leader for customer support services in Information Systems (IS), which manages the clusters. "Based on our experience, I'm convinced that recycled papers have improved a lot since they were first introduced years ago, and now we're using the 50 percent Envirographic in all the Athena clusters."

Procurement itself has also switched to recycled stock. Another large user is the operations services team of IS in the Data Center in Building W91. And the Media Laboratory is now using recycled papers for its copiers, printers and fax machines.

In the past year, the Copy Technology Centers' have switched to recycled paper, CopyTech manager Steve Dimond said. This includes the centralized CopyTech Centers as well as the Institute Copier Program, which operates a number of departmental copy rooms across campus.

"The Copy Technology Centers purchase about 35 million sheets of 8.5-by-11-inch paper annually," Mr. Dimond said. "In addition, nearly all the specialty stocks we buy are recycled. These include colored text papers and cover-weight stocks."

"The collaboration and hard work of the staff members and student volunteers on the Environmental Programs Task Force is making a real difference in the way MIT approaches environmental issues, achieving much more than any individual effort could," Ms. Keith said. Task Force representatives come from the Campus Activities Complex, Campus Dining, the CopyTech Centers, the Environmental Management Office, the Executive Vice President's Office, Facilities, Procurement, the Publishing Services Bureau, Residential Life and Student Life Programs, the Safety Office and students, many from SAVE (Share a Vital Earth).


Several other campus environmental initiatives also are underway. These include the Green Building Design Guidelines Task Force, which is working to identify a small number of high-priority, long-term goals for sustainable and "high-performance" buildings on campus.

Sponsored by Ms. Keith and Victoria Sirianni, director of Facilities, the Green Building Task Force includes faculty and a graduate student from the Schools of Architecture and Planning and Engineering as well as staff from Facilities, the Environmental Management Office and the Environmental Medical Service.

Another major effort is the development of a comprehensive environmental management system that will integrate three key components: compliance, positive initiatives and education. This project is in the discovery phase, with participation by IS, Facilities and the new Environmental Health and Safety team (see article on page 1).

Ms. Keith has stressed the need for broad involvement by faculty, staff and students throughout MIT in the design of this system (which is required by the Environmental Protection Agency) to ensure that it will work well for the laboratories, research centers and departments it's intended to serve. Ms. Keith has been consulting with Provost Robert Brown and Vice President and Dean for Research David Litster on how best to involve faculty in this initiative.

Professor Jeffrey Steinfeld and Dr. Matthew Gardner of the Program on Environmental Education and Research are also working with Professor Donald Sadoway to bring environmentally responsible and compliant concepts into the curriculum for Professor Sadoway's freshman chemistry course.

For more information about recycling, contact Kevin Healy at x3-6360 or Contact Judi Bean at x3-8348 or for information on recycled products; Jim Curtis at x2-2508 or about the project on guidelines for sustainable buildings; and Bill Van Schalkwyk at x3-9492 or about other environmental initiatives.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on July 12, 2000.

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