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Institute may begin recycling

By Michael Gojer

MIT's Physical Plant is considering the feasibility of a paper recycling program at MIT on an Institute-wide level, according to John C. Berlinguet Jr. '52, superintendent of support services and building maintenance. Physical Plant has not yet decided whether to implement a program, Berlinguet said, but expects to reach a conclusion over the summer.

The Institute consumes an estimated two tons of paper per day, according to Michael Norris G, a member of a group of graduate students pushing for recycling efforts at MIT. Recycling could save the Institute money: dumps charge $50-$100 per ton for waste disposal, but white paper can be sold or given away to recycling groups, Norris said.

Meanwhile, at least 140 students have signed an open letter to President Paul E. Gray '54 calling on the Institute "to take a public stand in favor of the efficient use of the energy and materials on campus" and to "recycle materials whenever economically feasible." The petition drive originated when Norris' group met in March. It picked up steam last week during the "recycling awareness week" organized by Share a Vital Earth (SAVE), a separate recently-formed environmental issues group.

Several universities, including Brown and Dartmouth, have established recycling programs of their own, Norris said.

Physical Plant had a paper recycling program in the mid 1970s. Although Berlinguet would not comment on it, Norris said the program was cancelled because of budget constraints. But ultimately, Norris said, "plain economics" may force people into recycling.

Details of program unclear

Berlinguet could not describe the exact details of a possible recycling program as he is still awaiting approval from superiors. One question, for example, is whether dormitories would participate in recycling. The students in SAVE could create an interest in that, Berlinguet said.

That is just what they would like to do. SAVE wants the recycling effort to reach into the dormitories and to go beyond recycling just white paper to include newspaper, according to Michael Mills '89, a SAVE member. White paper, colored paper, and newspaper must be separated before recycling.

A number of groups on campus have already begun recycling. Earthworm, Inc., a nonprofit recycling advocate group which supports itself on donated waste paper, is collecting paper from voluntary programs in 14 academic buildings, according to Earthworm's Jeff Coyne. Earthworm has collected on average 20 tons of paper per year from MIT over the last 10 years, Coyne said.

And the independent living group pika, for example, began recycling all its white and colored paper, newsprint, cardboard, aluminum, and plastic waste this spring, roughly halving its waste volume and decreasing disposal costs by 30 percent, according to pika recycling co-chairman Eric Ford '92. Some students from Lambda Chi Alpha and Chi Phi are interested in setting up similar programs in their houses next year.

Students in New House and McCormick are running can and bottle recycling operations in their houses and donating the funds they collect to charity, according to SAVE's Mills.

Recycling economics

The Institute might be able to make a small profit by selling its recyclable waste paper, although there would be increased personnel costs incurred in administering a recycling program and maintaining receptacles for recyclable waste.

Norris said the Institute could sell its waste paper for roughly $40 a ton. Coyne said Earthworm can get from $100 to $170 per ton for paper it delivers to a mill.

The selling price of waste may vary, especially as the supply increases, Norris said. But the savings in avoided costs of waste disposal will most likely continue to increase as "all of the available dumps in the area will be filled in two years ... and there is no available land for new ones," he said.

Though both Mills and Norris said almost everyone they had talked to about recycling supported the idea, Norris said some people at MIT might be reluctant to impose recycling on Institute staff, while others might be apprehensive because of past experiences with poorly-run programs. But, Norris said, people who are trying small recycling programs in their departments are getting about one-third of their co-workers participating voluntarily.

Ironically, interest in recycling at the Institute has grown simultaneously on many fronts, from Physical Plant to independent living groups. Norris said when his group met in March they had "no idea" that Physical Plant was considering restarting a recycling program next year. "A lot of different groups had the same idea at the same time," Mills said.