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Three Rutgers professors receive grant to design improved U. recycling program

Officials said people still continue to mix garbage and recyclable materials even after the University switched to a single-stream recycling system. – Photo by

Three Rutgers Business School professors recently acquired a grant from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to improve the University’s recycling process.

Mark Rodgers, Matthew Walsman and Kevin Lyons, professors in the Department of Supply Chain Management, received $206,346 as part of the state’s Recycling Enhancement Grant Research program, according to the article.

Their grant project entails designing a model for the University’s recycling program that reduces the amount of recyclable materials that get thrown away as garbage instead and vice versa, which would prevent garbage from contaminating recyclables, Lyons said, according to the article.

“We really want to get to a model where it’s like a circular system — where we can use (waste) for something else, or we can make something else with it,” Lyons said. “At Rutgers, for instance, our carpeting that’s in some of our buildings was made from soda bottles and water bottles and such. So there's ways that you can do this, but everybody has to be on the same page.”

Walsman said the project will involve recreating existing recycling models, experimenting with new models, implementing any beneficial ones and updating relevant professional tools accordingly. He said the University has been facing challenges in yielding desirable results from its current waste disposal program due to individual behavior.

“The process isn’t getting all of the returns that the University would like to see,” Walsman said. “People throw away whatever they want into their bins, right? So it’s not just recycling content or material ... it’s trash, it’s contamination.”

Lyons said this may be partly because students think Rutgers is not truly recycling when it mixes all recyclables together in one container. But these materials get sorted at waste management facilities, taking the responsibility out of consumers’ hands.

Prior to this method, Lyons said the University used multiple containers to recycle materials but found that people mixed them regardless. He said both methods can be equally effective, but people often discount their personal contributions and expect custodians to clean up after them.

“I really want the University to know that these individuals come to work every day, and they really do help take care of us,” he said. “So I’d just like folks to recognize our custodial and facilities maintenance people when they start to think about whether (they are) going to throw this in the right container or not.”

Walsman said he hopes their completed research will deliver an improved recycling system that can be implemented beyond Rutgers. At the same time, he said it is important that individuals learn how to recycle correctly to make the most out of the system and help the environment, making education an important part of the professors’ research as well.

“We're measuring and designing ... and innovating, and it's not perfect, but we're really appreciative that the state has recognized our efforts and is willing to support them as we try to make a small difference here,” he said. “Hopefully, people, as they see it, then they’ll become contributors and want to do their part.”

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