Recycling and Solid Waste at Williams

What does Williams recycle? How much do we throw away? Could we be doing a better job at recycling? Where do our recycleables go? What’s the environmental impact of our recycling efforts?

Katie White ’11 worked during the past summer as an intern for the Luce Project for Campus Sustainability looking at just those kinds of questions. She rode around in the college recycling truck, weighed compost, looked in trash barrels and sorted through years of recycling and waste data. The summary from her report is below; see her full report here. Katie will be speaking with several of the other Luce Interns at Log Lunch on October 26th, and she’s currently continuing her work on recycling and solid waste during the school year, both as a student employee of the Luce Project and as a member of Thursday Night Group.

Solid Waste at Williams College
A Luce Foundation Report
Katherine S. White
September 2007

Solid waste at Williams College can be separated into three general categories: recycling, compost, and trash. Recycling includes paper (mixed fiber and paper, magazines and books, newspaper, and cardboard), mixed recycling (cans, bottles, and plastic), metals, grounds waste (non-mulched prunings, leaves, etc.), universal and hazardous waste, and some recycled and demolition debris. Compost is mainly pre-consumer food scraps and post-consumer food waste. Trash includes materials that cannot or have not been recycled — waste from packaging, food-contaminated materials, some demolition debris and construction materials, and waste that could have been recycled but was not.

Based on our estimates, trash accounts for ~80% of the ~1100 tons of the college’s regular solid waste; recycling comprises 19%, and compost comprises less than 2%. In 2006, (1) costs for disposal of regular solid waste and recycling exceeded $370,000, including personnel; (2) trash disposal costs were ~ $300 per ton; and (3) recycling avoided ~350 T of eCO2 emissions. While Williams’ recycling efforts are commendable, this study identifies several areas for improvement, e.g. requirements for waste haulers, location and number of recycling containers and other incentives to decrease trash volume and increase the amount of recycling.

Improvements in waste management and recycling will help to minimize negative environmental impacts and could reduce operating costs. Management efforts should focus on reducing the amount of trash generated by the College and expanding efforts to recycle “regular” waste as well as wastes associated with demolition and construction.