A Greener Wave

October 1, 1997

Judith Zwolak

Aaron Allen can talk at length about why recycling is the "right thing to do." Sending renewable materials to a recycling center diverts waste from the landfill or incinerator. Recycling materials into new products also reduces our use of natural resources and uses less energy than virgin materials.

These reasons are powerful, but it's the money saved that clinches any argument in support of recycling, concedes Allen, president of the Tulane Green Club and a senior majoring in music and environmental studies. That's why Allen and co-Green Club officer Alicia Lyttle, a senior environmental studies major, spent the summer compiling data on the uptown campus's recycling program. A grant from the Center for Bioenvironmental Research and the Tulane Environmental Studies Program paid for the two students' salaries this summer.

"We've come up with our baseline figures," Allen says. "Now we can make the recycling program better."

Working with the Keith Hook, recycling coordinator; Mike Stringer, support services supervisor; and Ken Symonette, director of physical plant facilities, Allen and Lyttle compiled five years of data and analyzed the costs of the recycling program, the program's income and--an often overlooked item--the savings realized in paying fewer "tipping fees" at the landfill. The data-intensive report took the entire summer to conceptualize and compile, Allen says.

The effort was worth it, he adds, since the data show modest, but nevertheless positive, savings for the university. With all variables taken into account, the total costs of the existing recycling and refuse program for fiscal year 1996-97 was $234,921, which is $418 less than the hypothetical cost of a refuse program without recycling ($235,339). The savings from recycling were the greatest in 199394, when the difference was $38,626.

The major reason for the differences between the years, says Allen, was the curbside recycling program in Uptown New Orleans, which was initiated in 1995 and reduced the amount of recyclables brought to the Tulane Recycling Center behind the Stadium Place residence halls by nearly 500 tons.

Another reason for the lower savings is the volatile market for recyclables, which has decreased steadily over the years with the exception of the aluminum market. Although the savings are slim, the fact that the program is beneficial to Tulane's bottom line is often overlooked because savings from sending fewer tons of refuse to the landfill isn't considered, Allen says. "These numbers show that there is no justification for doing away with the recycling program as it now stands," he says. "Plus, we're missing so much that can be recycled. We can easily double what we take in now."

Allen proposes adding student workers to the recycling office, which consists of Hook and two full-time staff members who are responsible for collecting recyclables throughout the entire campus. More bins in dorms and around campus, coupled with education about how to recycle on campus, could make the program even stronger, he adds. But the biggest boost to recycling would be a coordinated campus-wide effort, Allen says.

"We have to make recycling a community-wide university policy," Hook agrees. "We already have a lot of resources and people in different departments who can help us recycle on campus." Anyone interested in the recycling data report can contact Allen at the Green Club office, 862-3198.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000