March 8, 2011
Can five students change the recycling habits of an entire university? That is the goal of one Business and Technology Senior Design Team at Stevens Institute of Technology. The team, Stevens Goes Green, is capitalizing on a national recycling competition to further the university's sustainability goals.
The Senior Design Team members Bryan De Faria, Stephanie Giangrande, Galo Naranjo, Michael Quijano, and Sherry Rosenberg hope that they can demonstrate a tangible impact from recycling—in both cost savings and carbon footprint—to permanently change attitudes and behavior.
The object of Senior Design at Stevens is to give students a hands-on experience that builds on classroom learning and aids in the transition from classrooms to careers. According to the team's advisor, Professor Bernard Skown of the Howe School of Technology Management, a critical lesson in this project is how communication and leadership can be employed to unite a large community in a single vision. The team is working to overcome traditional barriers to recycling by correcting misconceptions and providing incentives.
"We have found that the two main barriers to participation in recycling are not knowing and not caring," says Professor Skown. The most common misconception, even among students with an environmentalist streak, is that recycling simply does not work.
"Some students may think that everything they put in the recycling bin is just thrown away," says team member Michael Quijano. "But everything you put in a bin at Stevens really is recycled. We hope that spreading information about how the process works will give additional incentive to recycle."
A major catalyst for the Senior Design project is RecycleMania 2011, an annual recycling competition that this year is benchmarking the recycling efforts of 630 colleges and universities. By weighing the filled trucks before they return to the recycling facility, Stevens Physical Plant is generating data on the total amount of recyclables collected weekly at Stevens. Stevens Goes Green is reporting these numbers to RecycleMania, which ranks participating schools according to a number of criteria, such as gross weight of recyclables and per capita results.
"RecycleMania is an excellent way for our students to be made aware of recycling on campus and fits into our overall mission to engage students in sustainability," says Dr. Keith Sheppard, Associate Dean of Engineering and Science and Chair of the Green Initiatives Committee at Stevens.
The Senior Design learning process has exposed the team to the process of recycling to know, first-hand, what happens once recyclables leave campus. In February, Waste Management hosted a site visit at the facility where Stevens materials are recycled using the sophisticated technology and practices of so-called "single stream" recycling. Single stream, a system in which all recyclables—from cans to plastic bottles to paper—can be deposited together, simplifies the recycling process at the bin without reducing effectiveness.
To connect with community members not inclined to be green, the team is preparing to let folks know that there is another kind of "green" at stake. Norman Forster, Director of Stevens Physical Plant, reports that transporting away landfill waste is significantly more expensive than transporting recyclables. Additional savings will come from Pierce Dining Hall, which will soon start separating biodegradable kitchen waste to be trucked to an industrial composter. The total reduction in trash removal costs will save the university thousands of dollars every month.
Stevens Goes Green is collaborating with Forster to disseminate knowledge about how these improvements benefit the university community. The team is developing flyers that address the knowledge gap about the recycling process, and will be speaking to resident associates to promote recycling on students' home turf: their dormitories. To rally participation, an interdormitory recycling contest is in the works, a development coordinated with the Office of Resident Life.
Keep in touch with RecycleMania at Stevens by becoming fans of the team on Facebook, following them on Twitter, or checking their progress on the RecycleMania Web site. Click on Results and search for Stevens to see the latest numbers.