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Getting Trashed

May 24, 2010

On the eve of Earth Day, eight students and two members of the staff participated in the second annual waste audit. These hardy souls spent almost five hours sifting through the contents of trash and recycle bins representing a sample 24-hour period. The point? To determine with reasonable accuracy the proportion of the law school’s waste stream that is made up of the various types of recyclable and non-recyclable trash and its impact on the environment. After the types of waste were sorted, weighed and tabulated, the data was converted into annual tonnage and its global warming potential (measured in tons of carbon dioxide equivalence). Knowing how much we could recycle and how much we really do tells us not only how well we are doing but how well we could do and helps us set goals for the coming year. Future audits will measure how well we achieve those targets.

(l-r) Michael Rogovin, Laura Mott, Patrick Foster, (top) Hillary Alberts, Casey Bryant, Maggie Sposato, Carmen Rana, (bottom) Robin Gordon-Leavitt and Paula Segal.
Pictured: (l-r) Michael Rogovin, Laura Mott, Patrick Foster, (top) Hillary Alberts, Casey Bryant, Maggie Sposato, Carmen Rana, (bottom) Robin Gordon-Leavitt and Paula Segal.

In a typical day that classes are in session, the law school community produces over 930 pounds of waste, estimated to be about 79 tons per year. 62% could have been recycled, but 63% was placed in the trash bins, including 45% of all recyclables. Thus, almost half of items that should have been separated out ended up going to landfills. This included one-third of all plastic bottles, 60% of all cans, foil and drink boxes, one-quarter of all paper and 63% of all cardboard. Despite collection bins for food waste, 97% of all compostable food waste was deposited in the trash cans, representing 16% of all waste and accounting for the pungent smell during the audit. 8% of the contents of recycle bins was non-recyclable materials. Presence of any non-recyclables in these bins contaminates the contents and the Sanitation Department will dispose of the entire bag into landfills.

Among the waste were 451 paper coffee cups, totaling nearly 14 pounds. To demonstrate what a waste this is, Administrative Services Coordinator Carmen Rana, who is studying art at Queens College, created the Garden of Waste Paper Cups, now on display in the rear lobby. We hope that this encourages faculty, students and staff to use reusable mugs and eliminate these from our trash.

Using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency computer model, we have estimated that if we recycled and composted everything that is recyclable and now goes to landfills, we could reduce emissions equivalent to taking seven passenger cars off the road for 1 year or 4,584 gallons of gasoline.

Participating in the audit were students Hillary Alberts, Casey Bryant, Patrick Foster, Robin Gordon-Leavitt, Alyssa Katz, Laura Mott, Marita Robinson and Maggie Sposato; staff Michael Rogovin (Deputy to the Dean) and Daniel Chan (IT staff).

Special thanks to Carmen Rana and her staff, including Jose Lorenzo and John Whitehead.

Download the full report »

— Michael Rogovin, Deputy to the Dean


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