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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.

Modest proposal #9 - Let's strip
April 20, 2008 - 10:03pm

OK, now! Get your mind out of the gutter. We all get to keep our clothes on and, for some of us (we know who we are), that makes the world an infinitely better place.

However, one of the policy proposals I have in mind for next year is for Greenback U. to implement an effective preference for purchasing product whose packaging is entirely recyclable, and in a single class (think reams of paper, wrapped in paper, boxed in cardboard). Second on the preference list would be product which is packaged in a manner that all recyclable content is easily and readily separable from non-recyclable materials, and from other classes of recyclables.

Think of cookies packaged in a plastic tray -- the tray is recyclable, and is entirely separate from the surrounding bag -- that's good. Now, think of the bag. It's paper on the outside, foil on the inside, and there's no way to separate the foil (recyclable) from the paper (recyclable), so the thing has to go into the landfill. If the paper could be stripped off of the foil (or vice versa), then all the packaging could be recycled, and Greenback's waste diversion rate would (or, at least, could) go up. So, if cookie baker A uses strippable packages, and cookie maker B doesn't, then Greenback should buy cookies from A.

Sound too complex to implement? It's not. It does require a certain effective centralization of purchasing activity (for consistent enforcement), but other organizations are doing it. IBM has a good set of packaging requirements on page 12 of this document. While Greenback purchases a wider range of goods than many companies, I'm not sure that our purchases are more varied than those of IBM.

One of the reasons our current recycling (waste diversion) rates are unremarkable (not bad, but no better than average) is that employees and some students don't take recycling all that seriously. The unconcerned students, it will take some time to reach. But employees will follow a lead, if Greenback cares to take one. Right now, promotion of recycling on campus has a kind of "let's you and him recycle" feel to it. Greenback, as an institution, is involved, but not committed. (Insert chicken vs. pig metaphor here.) But if the U. starts taking steps to encourage recycling by actively enabling it, and even goes to some trouble and some (marginal) expense to achieve that enabling, then the whole feel changes.

Separable (strippable) packaging is, I hope, a technical enough sort of requirement that it may not engender a lot of active resistance. I could be wrong. It will be interesting to find out.

Does your college have explicit requirements or preferences with regard to packaging on goods it purchases?


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