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January 5, 2006

Pitt targets recycling

The new year is just a few days old. Have you kept your resolutions? If your vows to quit smoking or to avoid those leftover holiday cookies have already fallen by the wayside, perhaps there’s a simpler resolution to consider, one that will please Mother Nature and Pitt’s Office of Facilities Management, too: Recycle more.

Senior manager of custodial services Will Mitchell Sr. said University employees can count on hearing more about recycling in 2006. The new goal is to divert 30 percent of the University’s waste stream to recycling, up from 25 percent, Mitchell said.

To increase the program’s visibility and success, two Facilities Management employees, Harry Hilliard and William Bailey, have been named recycling coordinators. The two already have begun training custodians and their supervisors. They also have been meeting with department heads around the University.

“We want to let them know what our goals are,” Bailey said.

Among their plans are to ensure there’s a recycling basket at each desk, to make recycling more convenient in the University residence halls and to raise awareness about the program.

“We want to make it a fixture in everyone’s mind,” Bailey said.

Plans this spring include upgrading the recycling website at and promoting recycling via advertisements, Åudix messages and e-mails aimed at faculty and staff. They also plan to contact student groups to increase recycling efforts in the residence halls.

“It’s a matter of education and awareness,” Hilliard said. The coordinators aren’t expecting recycling to be a hard sell to the University community. They’ve received unsolicited calls from department heads and concerned employees asking how they can recycle more effectively. And, Mitchell said, there is support from the University administration.

“I think the majority of folks out there want to comply,” Bailey said. “There’s little resistance.”

The existing program has had critics who have raised concerns that although recyclables are being separated deskside they sometimes are dumped as trash. Others have said they simply don’t know what materials are acceptable for recycling.

Bailey and Hilliard hope a little education will change all that.

Custodians have sometimes taken the rap for dumping recyclables into the trash, something that Hilliard said he’s working to minimize.

“People out there have to use the containers properly,” he said, adding that if non-recyclables are dropped into recycling baskets, the contamination automatically makes the whole load trash.

Custodians have been instructed to remove small non-recyclables from deskside recycling baskets when possible, but that’s not feasible for the larger cans that are located in common areas, Mitchell said.

Custodians also will be keeping an eye out for people who consistently put recyclables in the trash or trash in the recycling baskets. If custodians notice a repeated problem in a particular area, they’ve been instructed to report it to their supervisor, who will contact the department supervisor where the problem is occurring.

Those who can’t seem to get the hang of recycling may find a gentle reminder in the form of a tent card on their desk asking for their cooperation.

To eliminate any doubt about what can and can’t go into the recycling baskets, new stickers that list acceptable items in green lettering and prohibited items in red have been designed for deskside recycling receptacles. “It makes it more clear what should and shouldn’t go in the containers, “ Hilliard said.

Collected recyclables are placed in special bins on each building’s loading dock where they are collected weekly by a contractor who transports them to a recycling center for processing.

Although the recycling coordinators would like the recycling program to become an invisible, natural part of the workplace; they’ve found that people are encouraged when they can see their custodians separating the recyclables from the refuse when office baskets are collected.

To dispel the idea that individual recycling efforts are going to waste, custodians are receiving new two-part receptacles with clearly marked compartments for trash and recyclables so there is no mistaking that the materials are being separated.

“That eliminates any perception that we’re not recycling,” Bailey said.

The new carts are being introduced now in Posvar, Craig and Salk halls, Sennott Square and Forbes Tower. Custodians in other buildings will get the new carts as finances permit, with the goal of having the new carts in all buildings by the end of 2006, Mitchell said.

In response to other concerns about the appearance of recycling receptacles, the coordinators are working to ensure that collection containers look clean and attractive, particularly in areas that have recently been remodeled.

Those who find the large recycling bins in common areas unattractive can look forward to more of the multi-compartment recycling stations similar to those already in place in the William Pitt Union and Victoria Hall, Mitchell said. Plans are to add more of the new containers around campus over the next two to three years, but it will take some time due to the cost of units: more than $900 each.

Mitchell said he’s confident the changes will go far in raising the amount of material recycled at the University.

“Success is any increase,” he said.

—Kimberly K. Barlow


Recycling over the years

From a humble start in 1990 when a few types of office paper were the only recyclables collected, Pitt’s program has grown to include mixed office paper, corrugated cardboard, scrap steel, copper, toner cartridges, aluminum, glass, plastic, fluorescent lamps and stainless steel. Common items such as paper are collected deskside from offices; glass, aluminum and plastic are collected from larger containers located in common areas. Odd recyclables such as scrap metal are collected by request.

Now, Pitt recycling coordinators are thinking even bigger and hoping to increase the targeted amount that’s recycled from 25 percent to 30 percent of the University’s waste stream.

The goal is a bit of a moving target, because it is based on tonnage, a figure that can vary widely. “When there is a large amount of construction on campus, the additional debris can skew the percentages, even if recycling has increased. We’re usually pretty close,” said Facilities Management senior manager of custodial services Will Mitchell Sr.

Fiscal year 2004 was an anomaly for that reason, Mitchell said. During the year, nearly 393 tons of mixed office paper was recycled at Pitt along with 160 tons of corrugated cardboard, 10 tons of scrap steel, five tons of stainless steel and 36 tons of mixed aluminum, glass and plastic.

The amount was seven tons more than in fiscal year 2003. But, due to construction, the University generated 7,252 tons of refuse — quadruple its 2003 amount, leaving the percentage recycled at less than 8 percent.

In 2003, 593 tons of 2,340 tons of waste was recycled, allowing the University to reach the 25 percent mark. In fiscal 2002, about 15 percent was recycled: roughly 488 tons out of 3,245 total tons of waste.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 38 Issue 9

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