In some ways universities are similar to big companies when it comes to recycling -- multiple departments separate from one another, many different types of waste -- but they also face unique challenges, such as showing the value of recycling to a wider range of players -- students, staff, faculty -- than just employees.
"We understand for us to get where we want to go, every single person has got to be involved," said David DeHart, associate director of environmental services at Rutgers University, speaking during a GreenBiz.com webcast yesterday.
Rutgers wants to be seen as the leading environmentally-responsible university, DeHart said. More specifically, it wants to send no waste to landfill. Through its recycling program, started in 1972, Rutgers recycled 67 percent of its trash last year, and has avoided $2 million in landfill costs since 2005.
"We must begin to view trash not as a waste, but as a resource," DeHart said.
Paul Pistono, vice president of Waste Management's public sector solutions, which works with universities to craft recycling and waste reduction programs, said the benefits for universities extend beyond money.
A school with a serious recycling program -- which most likely goes hand-in-hand with other environmental efforts -- can boost its brand, draw research funding, generate positive public relations, and attract students, faculty and donations, Pistono said during the webcast, "Why Reducing Waste is a No Brainer for Higher Ed," which was sponsored by Waste Management.
Pistono offered a five-step process for reducing waste and recycling at campuses:
- Establish a green council. Get commitments from all departments. "Reducing waste means activating a culture shift," he said.
- Conduct an assessment. Find out what waste is being generated, where it's coming from, what is currently being done and what you want to be doing.
- Identify opportunities. Find ways to dispose of as much trash as possible without sending it to landfill.
- Implement programs. Create programs that are specific to things like sporting events, dorms and the Greek system. "When you have clear priorities, systems and tools, people are much more likely to participate and be engaged," he said.
- Measure and report. Find out what is being recycled, identify gaps in programs and evaluate if new efforts are needed.
In the same year Rutgers launched its recycling program, Florida International University had its opening day. The university began recycling in 2008, has a sustainability committee (made up of students, staff and faculty), and is recycling almost 30 percent of its waste, said Carrie Kashar, assistant director of the university's Office of Sustainability.
After conducing a waste audit with Waste Management, the university received 14 recommendations, and is developing a paper reduction and recycling campaign, switching to hand dryers to eliminate paper towel waste and looking at how to reduce and better organize the 4,200 recycling bins it has out.
One of the keys to all that, she said, is a similar need for getting recycling taked seriously at businesses. "You have to find in your leadership what makes them feel that sustainability is important," she said.
The full webcast will be archived and available for free viewing.
Recycling image CC-licensed by Lars Plougmann/Flickr