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Recycling plan pushed by staff

The Working Group on Support Staff Issues' Recycling Committee started in 1999, when only 5 percent of the Institute's waste was being recycled annually.

By the end of 2005, MIT--supported by the Working Group's Recycling Commmittee (WGR) and the City of Cambridge--has set an annual goal of 40 percent.

They are close. During the month of November 2004, 41 percent of MIT's trash was recycled. The current annual rate is 25 percent.

"Most of that recycling would have been trash in 1995," said Steven Lanou, program manager for sustainability initiatives in the Environmental Programs Office and a member of the WGR.

The vast increase in recycling awareness is due in large part to the tireless efforts of WGR to get the word out about recycling and a "greener" lifestyle.

The MIT Working Group on Support Staff Issues (WGSSI) was established in 1975 to address issues of concern to support staff at MIT. The WGR sub-committee's mission is to "develop and deliver programs that educate administrative and support staff about recycling, reducing and reusing goods." In the past four years, the WGR has come up with new and creative ways to meet its mission.

This year's theme of "creative collaboration" has the WGR joining forces with other campus groups, including the Department of Facilities, Sodexho, the Real Estate Office and the Environmental Programs Office, and the City of Cambridge. Such collaboration has helped in the group's success.

"We felt it was very important to develop a collaborative effort," said Anne Wasserman, assistant to the director of the Microsystems Technology Laboratories and co-chair of the WGR, who credits the support of the WGSSI sponsor, Laura Avakian, vice president for Human Resources, and Jamie Lewis Keith, senior counsel and managing director for Environmental Programs and Risk Management, for helping the committee succeed.

One of the projects WGR is most proud of is The Monthly Bale, a newsletter launched last fall. With a distribution of 4,000 and growing, the e-mailed Bale dispels myths and gives recycling tips, said editor and WGR co-chair, Amy Donovan. The December 2004 issue provided tips on "Greening Your Holidays" with advice such as using e-mail for invitations and recycled paper for holiday cards.

"Many people say things like, 'Wow. I didn't know you could recycle batteries. Next time I will,'" said Donovan.

Artist and designer Mara Karapetian, a media specialist in the Microsystems Technology Laboratory, designs The Monthly Bale and the downloadable paperless calendar, which also started last fall. Karapetian is conscious of keeping everything produced by WGR both environmentally friendly and visually appealing.

"If eye candy is what it takes to get the word out and get us noticed, then that is okay with me," Karapetian said with a laugh.

The WGR also has more than 100 "recycling ambassadors" who assume a recycling leadership role in their departments. "We wanted to make involvement easy," said Wasserman.

This year, MIT dormitories are participating for the first time in the national RecycleMania contest that pits the Institute's dorms against more than 45 of the nation's top university recycling programs to see who can recycle the most trash. The contest runs through April 9.

"The ultimate goal really is to promote recycling," said Lanou. "This contest just makes it fun for the participants."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 9, 2005 (download PDF).

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