What happens to Harvard’s recycling, composting, and trash after it leaves campus?
- Information on where our diverted materials end up can be found on this page. As for trash, 75% of Harvard’s trash is landfilled (50% is landfilled in New Hampshire and 25% goes to Michigan). The remaining 25% is incinerated at a Massachusetts waste-to-energy plant.
How do I know recycling works the way it's supposed to?
- Waste vendors don’t want to trash our recyclable items – those are commodities that they can sell.
- See our recycling processes in action! We coordinate periodic tours of the local facilities that process our recycling and compost
What happens when trash or food waste go into the recycling stream?
- Materials Recovery Facilities (MRF’s), where recycling streams are processed, have machinery and processes that can sort out many contaminated items. However, some items can be problematic for MRF’s. For example, plastic bags, cords, and textiles wrap around the sorting machinery, causing delays and hazards for the workers that must remove it.
How much of our recycling stream is stuff that doesn't belong there?
- Approximately 14 to17% of the material that comes into the recycling facility (not only Harvard’s recycling) is sorted out and disposed of as trash.
What happens when recycling or trash gets placed in the compost stream?
- Most materials will get filtered out and disposed of through our food waste vendor’s de-packaging system. Glass is an exception to this: when glass goes through the de-packaging system, it breaks into little pieces and contaminates the food waste.
Why do the signs still say compost if our food waste isn’t actually composted?
- In 2018 we transitioned to a new food waste vendor. This vendor processes organics for anaerobic digestion (details here). We continue to use the compost signage because it’s a recognizable label for what belongs in this stream. If/when we roll out new signage, we could transition to a more accurate and all-encompassing “Food Waste” label.
What are some common items that are often disposed of incorrectly?
- Items that are normally recyclable but are contaminated with liquid or food waste (e.g., a soda bottle that is not empty)
- Hot coffee cups (most are trash)
- Soft plastic: plastic bags, plastic mailers, bubble wrap, etc. (drop-off at 28 Travis or put it in the trash – not single-stream recycling!)
- Utensils (trash)
- Compostable plastic (compost or trash – not recycling!)
How/where do I properly dispose of ______ ?
- Use our Waste Wizard tool, coming winter 2022! In the meantime, reach out to the department contacts listed above.
How can students, faculty, staff, or other community members get involved in Harvard’s waste reduction efforts?
- Host or support a Freecycle, waste audit, or Fixit Clinic!
- Begin or promote a Swap Shelf in your office area or housing unit.
- Go to green.harvard.edu for a variety of sustainability and waste-related resources, including information on how to form a Green Team.
- Setup an account and browse the numerous resources at Post Landfill Action Network, free to anyone with a Harvard email!
If any questions aren’t answered here, please reach out to the department contacts listed above.