Recycling inadequacies oppose university ideals

Though Carnegie Mellon has been the recipient of many environmental awards for its Green Practices program, one of the most basic and necessary green practices, recycling, needs to be retooled.

All of the elements for effective recycling of both common and uncommon materials seem to be in place, but in practice, too much of the average Carnegie Mellon student’s waste ends up in a landfill when it could be properly recycled. The problem is both infrastructural and informational.

Though recycling of standard metals, glass, plastic, and paper is sound on campus, recycling of other common materials, such as cardboard and paperboard, is not. In most dorms, cardboard is recyclable, but few students know which types of cardboard can be recycled or where to put it. The Green Practices website ( makes no mention of paperboard, which cannot be recycled alongside corrugated cardboard and must be, though rarely is, packed and recycled separately.

Recyclables that require more thought, such as cardboard, paperboard, transparencies, CDs, and specialized plastics, are supposed to find a home in the Green Room, a depot in the University Center intended to collect materials that are not recyclable elsewhere. However, for the number of CDs, batteries, and specialized plastics that are used in dorms and on campus, precious little of it makes it to the Green Room.

As convenient as it seems, the room is far from locations where people are actually using recyclable materials. In its current location, as a lobby to McConomy Auditorium, the Green Room is more a shrine to Green Practices than a working recycling center: It’s an excellent place to show parents on campus tours, but is ineffective as a depot for large amounts of sometimes messy recyclables.

Furthermore, anyone who has seen the dumpsters outside of Morewood Gardens and Donner House knows that the flotsam and jetsam from the end-of-year move-out consists of huge mountains of old books, discarded clothes, shoes, lamps, furniture, packaged foods, batteries, etc. It is clear from the sheer volume of these materials, all of which can be either recycled or reused, that our recycling infrastructure, while adequate for certain “standard” recyclables, does not recognize the bigger green picture of robust and active recycling and reuse. While semesterly donation bins in these locations are able to capture some of the refuse, the university must think outside the metal-glass-plastic-paper box and look into the recycling potential of all discarded materials.