Green Space: Waste of Time?

What happens to your waste once you toss it in the bin? No really, do you know where it goes? Not just “where is the incinerator,”, but who touches it? How much of your recycling is actually recycled? Where does your left-over food go? 

Environmental Consulting at Olin (ECO) is a class dedicated to making sustainability-minded change at Olin. This semester, ECO is working to reform our waste systems, specifically in Milas Hall and the Campus Center. Over the years, Olin’s waste management programs have evolved in various ways. In 2017, compost bins were introduced to the dining hall, allowing for the sustainable disposal of pre- and post-consumer food waste and vastly scaling up from our previous on-site composting operation. Over 7 years ago, recycling at Olin switched from multi-stream to single stream. Remnants of the old system can easily be found in the plethora of dissimilar recycling bins around campus, many labeled as “bottles and cans” or “paper” when they all currently end up funneled into the same recycling truck. 

Every night, Olin’s amazing custodial staff do their rounds through the buildings on campus, unlocking every office door and checking their trash and recycling bins. The trash and recycling are then brought back to the loading dock in the Campus Center and tossed into their respective dumpsters. The dining hall compost bins are also brought to the loading dock and prepared to be picked up. Throughout the day, between delivery vans and contractors, Olin’s recycling, compost, and solid waste vendors open the loading dock door, reverse into the dock, and truck our waste away. Our compost, for example, is taken by CERO Cooperative, who process it into soil that can be used at local farms. 

Although cost-per-ton for composting is higher than sending our food waste out with the trash, ECO has identified a few important reasons to expand Olin’s composting program to beyond the dining hall. Recently, Massachusetts has lowered the threshold of organic waste allowed in the trash, meaning that Olin must increase our composting. We have also learned that custodial staff take out the trash bins in the campus kitchenettes, no matter how empty they are, in case they begin to smell. By creating a separate compost receptacle that can be easily accessed, the odorous organic waste can be covered and easily emptied. 

Compost in Milas Hall and the upper levels of the Campus Center would be a significant improvement. However, the core change ECO would like to make is removing the need for custodial staff to go into each and every office. When faculty and staff can empty their own office bins into convenient, well-labeled centralized bins, including a separate receptacle for organic waste, they can reduce unnecessary labor for their colleagues. Our goal is to organize trash, recycling, compost, battery recycling, and e-waste receptacles into centralized waste stations. These will be convenient locations where all members of the Olin community can easily tell which bin their waste belongs in. We also anticipate that by adding additional streams, we reduce the total amount of waste that makes it to the incinerator. In Fiscal Year 2019, 61.53% of our waste was incinerated, with only 18.81% recycled and 19.15% composted. By giving people convenient alternative disposal options, we hope to divert more of this waste from the incinerator to compost, recycling, and e-waste recycling. The ECO class has been hard at work researching, communicating with various campus stakeholders, and designing this new waste system. Soon, you can expect to see a limited pilot of our new bins, at one location in each of Milas Hall and the Campus Center. Please utilize these bins and let us know your opinions on the new system, as nothing is set in stone and we would love to hear feedback from the Olin community. To provide feedback, please send an email to Brooke Moss at

+ posts

Leave a Reply