University Looks to Students in Effort To Drive Down Waste

The Harvard Habit for Humanity group, which has held a sale of used dorm items and books in the fall for almost two decades, is just one example of the numerous ways in which administrators try to work with students, he said.

Jaclyn Olsen, assistant director of the Office for Sustainability, attributed improvement in recycling to similar efforts, but said that a change in culture awareness has also played a part.

“I really think it’s been a big culture change,” Olsen said of students who have grown more environmentally conscious.

Still, both Gogan and Olsen talk about the challenges they face in reaching out to students and bringing the numbers down.



No city or community conducts recycling operations in the same manner, and with students from across the world arriving at Harvard every year, environmental educators have to play a catch-up game, said Samantha L. Houston ’11, REP coordinator and a former Eco REP.

The REP program was founded in 2002 after three students from the Environmental Action Committee proposed that undergraduates play a role in education and advocacy of green initiatives.

“[REPs] are basically ambassadors for all the issues,” Houston said.

With one REP per upperclassmen House, three to the freshman class, and a handful of captains, the group educates students on Harvard’s recycling and compost policies.

“You are constantly having to re-cultivate the knowledge base,” Houston said.

Kristen J. Wraith ’14, who was an Eco REP for three years and former EAC Chair, spoke about a recycling game she helped coordinate each year, where students were asked which of various items should be recycled and which should be thrown into the trash.

“One of the things that we’re always shocked about is that people tend to throw away most things,” Wraith said.

In addition to simply educating, Wraith emphasized the importance of teaching students why recycling matters.

Undergraduates care greatly about convenience, Wraith added.

“If there’s any effort involved, even like three feet of movement involved in recycling, some people are just going to keep on their way and trash something that might be recyclable,” echoed Houston.