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Vol.25, No. 02 Sept. 10, 1999

Heed the Recycling Bin: 'Columbia Conserves' Expands Recycling

By Lauren Marshall

While New York City scrambles to find waste disposal alternatives with the impending close of Fresh Kills landfill, Columbia University has launched an aggressive new recycling plan expected to reduce substantially the volume of trash generated on the Morningside Heights campus.

In classrooms, offices, residence halls and public spaces, existing trash cans and recycling bins have been updated with new color-coded recycling instructions, featuring the logo of "Columbia Conserves," the name of the new initiative.

Designed to be convenient and easy to use, the plan is modeled after the three-bin system used by New York City. Green is for all paper (including newspaper and colored paper), blue for bottles and cans, and black for trash.

Following the motto, "reduce, reuse, recycle," Columbia's goal is to reduce the amount of waste Columbia produces as a community not only through recycling commonly used materials, but also through waste reduction and reuse of materials.

"Columbians have had a long-standing interest in recycling," said Executive Vice President for Administration Emily Lloyd, the former sanitation commissioner for New York City who introduced the citywide recycling program in 1992. "Over the years, we have recycled significant volumes of paper, bottles and cans, and other materials. However, we all had a sense that we could do much better than we were doing. We took a look at the programs we had in place and determined that a simpler, more uniform, better publicized program could make a real difference. Working together with students, faculty, and staff, we hope to see significant increases in the volumes of recyclable materials we reclaim."

Lloyd commissioned Great Forest, an environmental consulting firm, to evaluate the University's waste management practices, focusing on recycling. Great Forest noted that existing recycling programs reclaimed significant volumes of recyclables, but found much room for improvement. As much as 51 percent of the University's current trash volume—primarily paper, but including bottles and cans as well—is recyclable. Great Forest identified several steps the University could take to increase the volume of material it recycles, among them: replacing varying recycling practices with a uniform program, reducing "contamination" of recyclables with food or non-recyclable waste and raising awareness of recycling programs.

"Because Columbia didn't have a clear recycling protocol, our aim was to implement a visible and simple program," said Jill Krevlin, vice president of Great Forest. "There had been so many transitions in recycling at Columbia. Originally, only white paper was collected, then the program expended to include office paper, which is more limited than the new mixed paper program. While some offices ran on one system others ran on the other."

According to Krevlin, Columbia now follows the guidelines that New York City residents use for recycling.

Columbians should note that it is not necessary to remove staples from paper, but any food scraps must be excluded from all recycling bins.

Recycling bins on campus have been relabeled to reflect the new guidelines. In Columbia's academic and administrative offices, desk-side bins have been relabeled or installed as needed. In the residence halls, the new bins are located in common areas: hallways, lounges and some suites. Officials will spend this year monitoring the program and adding bins where they are needed.

"We will promote the new recycling program actively as the new academic year begins," said Rich Welch, assistant director of administrative planning. "We are working with the Earth Coalition and other student leaders to help get the work out about the new program. We are emphasizing the World Wide Web, email, and voice mail as the primary means of communication, rather than bombarding students with flyers and brochures—which would be a rather ironic way of announcing a conservation program."

The World Wide Web site, www.columbia.edu/cu/green, contains recycling instructions, information on waste reduction and reuse, as well as recycling, ideas for responsible, practical environmental habits, links to campus and off-campus environmental resources and links to the Advisory Committee on the Environment to give feedback and suggestions.

In the spirit of Columbia Conserves, Business Services is selling mugs and tumblers with the Columbia Conserves logo. The $1.95 cups are available at dining locations on campus, including JJ's Place, Lerner Hall's new Cafe (212) and other popular spots. Refills at designated areas are discounted 10 cents, the price of the paper cup.