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Speaking Out
February 5, 2008, Volume 54, No. 20

Recycle Where?

Today’s (January 29) Almanac includes an announcement about RecycleMania@Penn, a “fun” competition for College Houses intended to encourage recycling. While it is certainly useful to raise awareness in this manner, it would be far more meaningful if the University made structural changes to facilitate recycling every day.

Shortly after reading Almanac, I walked by the elevators down the hall from my office on the sixth floor of Williams Hall.  As always, there were two large tubs for recycling mixed paper; but on top of one was an empty water bottle.  Evidently someone wanted to recycle this plastic, but there was no receptacle for it.  This gesture was slightly better than the common practice of throwing bottles and cans in the nearby trash, but illustrates how poor the recycling opportunities are in many places on campus. There are multiple receptacles in and near the cafe at the entrance to Williams Hall, but they are brown and look quite a bit like trash cans, a poor choice given that we are all conditioned to look for blue when we think of recycling; most do not have an actual trash can next to them, so I’m sure that many trash items end up in there.  To make matters worse, next to the heavily trafficked second-floor elevators, there is a blue recycling can that is used for trash.  On the similarly busy third floor, there is no trash can in the elevator lobby, just mixed paper recycling; one would have to look out in the stairwell to find a trash can (but not, of course, any bottle or can receptacle).

I always save up recycling in my office until I have a chance to take it to one of the receptacles I pass on the way to the library, but this is hardly possible for students walking between classes.  Anyone who thinks that most people will hold on to their empty bottles and cans when there isn’t a convenient way to recycle needs to take another look at human behavior. If the University truly cares about recycling, it should allocate the modest resources required to establish a widespread system of consistently recognizable and conveniently located receptacles.

—Eugene Buckley,
Associate Professor, Linguistics


In the area of recycling, we realize that we have far to go but we are making progress. Total recycling was up to 1600 tons last year, an improvement that takes us to 18% of our total waste. On campus, we recycle all of our leaves for mulching. Some parts of Penn, such as the Morris Arboretum and the New Bolton Center of the School of Veterinary Medicine recycle even more.

We are also pleased with the enormous response to RecycleMania and the recycling pledge. While the competition is intended to be fun, it is also educational and places us among the ranks of schools that are willing to publicly demonstrate their commitment to improving their recycling numbers.

Thank you for your interest.

—Anne Papageorge, VP, Facilities and Real Estate Services

Almanac - February 5, 2008, Volume 54, No. 20