Blog Post

RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts (RecyclingWorks) hosted the 2019 College & University Forum on March 7, 2019 at Wellesley College. These forum events are attended by facility managers, dining service operators, and recycling and sustainability coordinators, and are particularly useful for networking and discussion. This year’s forum focused on recycling in public spaces and dormitory areas, highlighting programs at three different campuses and including an interactive discussion with attendees.

Welcome and Updates

The event began with a welcome from Robert Lamppa, Director of Energy, Infrastructure, and Chief Sustainability Officer at Wellesley College. Lamppa was followed by brief presentations from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and RecyclingWorks.

  • John Fischer, Branch Chief of Commercial Waste Reduction and Waste Planning at the MassDEP, discussed the changes in recycling markets, the Solid Waste Master Plan for 2020-2030, and how the recycling landscape impacts college and university programs. Fischer spoke about two MassDEP funding programs that are increasing capacity for various waste streams across the state, as well as the Recycle Smart MA initiative. MassDEP encourages colleges and universities to sign up as a Recycle Smart partner. (Read our blog to learn more about the Recycle Smart MA initiative.)
  • RecyclingWorks representative Shomita Bhattacharya discussed the services available through the RecyclingWorks program, such as free technical assistance for businesses and institutions and dozens of inspiring case studies. She also previewed a few resources currently in development, such as a new webpage focused on single stream recycling best practices.

Presentations on Recycling in Public Spaces and Dormitories

Representatives from three colleges & universities presented on their public space and dormitory recycling and waste reduction programs:

  • Wellesley College Sustainability Coordinator Dorothea Von Herder, and Robert Lamppa, provided insight into the history of recycling and other sustainability initiatives on campus, describing how they utilize different types of equipment and encourage student involvement. They were joined by Jessica Osfield, Student Sustainability Intern, who discussed the office’s new program to address contamination in dormitories through distribution of reusable bags labeled with recycling information.
  • UMass Amherst Sustainability Director Kathy Wicks, and Office of Waste Management General Manager John Pepi spoke about the variety of recycling sorting stations and specific needs for different buildings across campus. With over 90 sorting stations in 15 buildings, UMass Amherst is working to ensure that recycling practices are consistent. This can be particularly challenging for locations such as the sports complex, where a third-party is responsible for waste management.
  • Clark University Director of Sustainability Jenny Isler concluded the session with a conversation on re-thinking recycling infrastructure. Isler discussed the campus’ prioritization of targeted areas and frequent assessments that inform recycling strategy. To reinforce best practices for collection bin setup, Isler brought physical copies of the university’s new color-coded signage for the audience to view.

Interactive Discussion

After a brief networking break, RecyclingWorks representative Sam Long facilitated an interactive discussion on improving the quality of recyclables, focusing on signage, education, equipment, and movement & transportation of materials. The panelists included each of the college and university representatives, as well as RecyclingWorks technical expert Heather Billings. Here are some of the main takeaways for each discussion topic:

Recycling and Waste Bin Signage

  • It is critical to update signage to reflect shifts in markets and include proper messaging for students, staff, faculty, and the public as needed. Work with your hauler to receive accurate and updated information on the materials they accept. Through our no-cost technical assistance, RecyclingWorks can also develop customized waste bin signage for your institution.
  • There is no perfect signage template. Content varies by location, and there are no universal best practices for the usage of text vs. images or contaminants vs. accepted materials. The Recycle Smart MA initiative uses a combination of pictures and words, and focuses on the top “No” items.
  • Image specificity is crucial. For example, the photo used for a recyclable plastic cup may look the same as a compostable one, which causes confusion and potential contamination.

Educating the Campus Community

  • Campuses are trying to focus on “recycling better” as opposed to simply “recycling more”. To achieve this some campuses are reducing the number of trash and recycling bins in high traffic areas, while others are experimenting with decentralizing waste sorting stations.
  • It is essential to remember your institution’s broader sustainability goals in order to avoid becoming overly focused on recycling each and every item. Educational messaging should be connected to global issues like climate change to motivate the campus community.
  • Remember that different campus stakeholders need different types of information in order to recycle successfully. For example, staff managing laboratory waste will need specific resources from the Environmental Health & Safety department, whereas an incoming freshman might benefit from a list of recommended items to bring on move-in day and the top materials that can be recycled on campus.
  • Erin Victor, Environmental Analyst with the MassDEP, described how the Recycle Smart MA initiative has been integrated into both residential and business communities. Colleges and universities are strongly encouraged to become a Recycle Smart Partner and leverage these resources to promote better recycling on campus.

Recycling and Sorting Equipment

  • Many colleges & universities have an overwhelming number of trash and recycling bins spread across their campuses, which can decrease efficiency during collection. It’s important to re-evaluate often and consider how changes in equipment may impact the rate at which bins are filled. For example, Wellesley is testing the use of reusable plastic bags for collection in dorm rooms, instead of bins, to see if this method improves the way students sort their recyclables.
  • Different waste streams might require different bag liners, and it is important to keep the custodial staff informed so that streams are not deemed contaminated based on bag choice.

Movement and Transportation of Materials

  • It is crucial to empower and educate custodial or facilities staff that are responsible for the movement of recyclables and trash. To overcome language barriers, employees should be provided training and signage in their native language.
  • Color coding bin liners and bags makes it easier for custodial staff to distinguish each waste stream throughout the transportation process, ensuring that recyclables are not inadvertently combined with trash.
  • Custodial staff should also receive training on how to proceed when recyclables appear to include excessive contamination.

All of the speaker presentations are available on the RecyclingWorks College & University webpage.

RecyclingWorks will host the 2019 Spring WasteWise Forum on May 1 at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. This forum will focus on procurement strategies and partnerships that consider the end-life of materials and aim to reduce waste, featuring a presentation from Massachusetts Maritime Academy. This is a great opportunity for colleges and universities to join professionals from other industries in discussing how purchasing decisions may impact the success of waste reduction and recycling programs. Registration is now available on the RecyclingWorks website.