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Class of 1993 Senior Project Will Bring Recycling to Institute's Main Buildings

Column by Douglas D. Keller and Arun Patel

Donning the hat of recycling insiders, we would like to shed a little light on the twisted history of recycling at MIT. For several years various (mostly student) groups and individuals have been trying to convince MIT to have a complete recycling program. Most of these efforts have been met with the usual amount of administrative and bureaucratic resistance. However, the Institute has been recycling white paper for two years now. MIT does this because it is profitable to recycle white paper, while recycling the other items costs money. Finally, beginning this year, MIT will begin a full recycling program for the main Institute buildings. The program that the Class of '93 is working to implement will include the collection of newspaper, plastics, and glass.

For over a year now there has been a full recycling program in the dormitories that handles newspaper, plastics, and glass in addition to white paper. This program exists through cooperation between a few students and the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs and has gone through many changes to get to its present incarnation.

The dormitory recycling program began in East Campus through the work of Suniti Kumar '91. Kumar asked volunteers from each floor to collect and sort their floor's recyclables. Initially, the recyclables were taken to a Cambridge recycling facility, either by one of the night watchmen or by any other suckers (including one of the authors) who could be persuaded to fill their cars with garbage at 7 a.m. every other Saturday.

Eventually, the Dean's Office agreed to fund the program so that a van could be rented to drive the recyclables to Cambridge. After several months of driving an overloaded van, the housing office, with the help of House Managers Jack Corcoran and Bailey Hewitt, signed a contract with Jet-A-Way Inc. to pick up the recyclables from several locations on campus. Even today, three years later, students still collect and sort all of the recyclables collected within the dormitories. This activity is best described as standing knee-deep in garbage each Friday night. (It's a thankless job, so you should thank the recycling person from your house.)

Last year Cambridge voted to ban the disposal of most recyclable items by 1995. Spurred by this resolution, members of Share A Vital Earth approached Senior Vice President William R. Dickson '56, who oversees the physical plant and housing departments. Dickson explained that the implementation of a full recycling program at MIT was not likely because it was not financially advantageous. When the city's intention to ban the disposal of recyclables and the possibility that MIT would be required to produce a proposal for recycling and waste management by the end of 1993 were mentioned, his response was simply, "We'll see about that."

When word of the resolution reached Dickson (probably via interdepartmental mail), he instructed physical plant to assign someone to design a plan. Physical plant has assigned the job of implementing a recycling program to Jennifer Combs, coordinator for building and grounds services. We find it disturbing that Combs has been saddled with the recycling proposal, yet has been given no extra money to implement a full recycling plan for the campus. This is where the senior class project comes in. The senior class project will fill the immediate gap in MIT's recycling program by providing bins for collecting recyclables throughout the Institute. Because recycling begins with education, some of the project's funds will be earmarked for educational posters and pamphlets to be distributed around the Institute. The project will also include instructions on how to use the bins. (Sure, this is an easy concept, but some people just don't seem to understand the difference between paper and glass.) The goals of the project include collecting 330 tons of newspaper and 25 tons of comingled trash -- glass, plastic, and aluminum -- annually by 1998. If weight doesn't mean much to you, think about it in these terms: recycling this stuff would save 5,040 trees and the energy equivalent of 640,700 gallons of gasoline.

Thinking about numbers like that should give you an sense for why this is such a good project. In our modern world, recycling is increasingly necessary. By the year 2000, most of the landfills in the country will be closed, and we won't have any place to put our trash. Recycling cuts down on the amount of garbage that is buried in landfills, conserving land resources around the country. Recycling also cuts down on the consumption of dwindling natural resources. Plastics, for instance, are produced from petroleum products, which are in finite supply. Finally, recycling trash into new products usually takes less energy and produces less pollution then starting from scratch.

As you can see, this year's senior class project is much different than many previous projects in that its benefits will extend beyond MIT itself. We urge the members of Class of 1993 to get behind this project with their time and financial support. We also urge the community to take advantage of the senior class project and Recycle MIT.