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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Taking work home
January 7, 2010 - 6:54pm

One of the smaller (if only in terms of my effort) projects I work on at Greenback U is promoting recycling. A large part of that effort involves making recycling not only possible, but convenient. Easy. No more work that throwing something in the trash.

To that end, I try to make sure that there's no place on campus from which you can't see a recycling container or two. Every classroom, every hallway, every residence room, every office, every public space (inside and, increasingly, outside as well). I also try to make recycling containers both attractive and obvious -- if they're too hard to see (or too ugly to be seen near), it's almost as bad as if they're not there at all.

So over the holidays, it struck me that I needed to do something similar in my house.

Now, we've been recycling pretty much everything at the Rendell farmstead since we moved into the place. We have one big bin for paper, and another for cans/bottles/plastics. We have a recyclable plastic bag for recyclable plastic bags. We have a special box we use to collect batteries and the occasional CFL. We're pretty conscientious about it.

But holiday visitors -- they're not always so conscientious. Perhaps it's because they don't have to live with my continuing wrath if they throw something recyclable "away". They aren't in the habit of walking to the one location where stuff gets recycled every time they want to dispose of a piece of paper, or whatever. They're used to being able to get rid of things without leaving a room.

It struck me -- they're right. I have wastebaskets, which are emptied into the trash, in pretty much every room in the house. I make disposing of trash convenient, in part because I don't want trash to end up on the floor, or on the counter, or behind a chair somewhere. But it never occurred to me to make recycling equally convenient.

In a sense, I've been sending a message that trash management is more important than recycling management. Not an explicit message, but a tacit one. The things we value are the things we spend time and money to accomplish, and I've been spending more time and money on infrastructure for trash than for recycling.

I tell myself that my family hasn't been listening to that implied message -- they KNOW how important it is to recycle. But the truth of the matter is that I don't really know.

More accurately, I haven't found out yet. But I will, because one of the things I did over the holidays was to put a pair of small recycling containers next to every trash can in my house. I haven't been measuring my domestic diversion rate, but I'm hoping that whatever it's been, it will soon go up.

And certainly, I'll be delivering a better implied message to the next set of holiday (or other) visitors to the place.



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