The VIRTUAL Reporter
Stanford University Graduate School of Business

Reduce, Reuse, then Recycle: GSB Recycles Paper Too Well?

By Monica Brand, MBA 1 (Send Monica an email.)
Did you ever stop to think about what you're tossing into the "PAPER ONLY" recycling bins scattered around the halls of the GSB?

According to Julie Muir, Operations Coordinator for Stanford's garbage and recycling contractor, Peninsula Sanitary Services, their collectors find everything in GSB recycling bins as they sort the paper for re-sale. In fact, MBAs are so proficient at "recycling" paper and other waste that the GSB has arranged to have Peninsula Sanitary collect GSB recycling bins every Tuesday and Friday, whereas most other Stanford programs pay for only once a week collection.

What to Recycle?

Some self-described"green" MBAs interviewed proudly explained that they put only white paper in the recycling bins, disposing of colored and glossy paper, as well as envelopes, in the regular garbage. Such paper purity, it turns out, is currently unwarranted because of record high demand for recycled paper. The "mixed paper" bundles are willingly accepted by Peninsula Sanitary Service, the recycling processor, and sorted into white and other paper grades for re-sale to paper mills in San Jose and Santa Clara. (These mills are willing to buy a variety of grades because of the current paper scarcity.)

Most students are all too eager to dispose of the hordes of MTC flyers, speaker announcements, and other miscellaneous notices that clutter their mailboxes. Moreover, Stanford Building Services has made it easy for students to feel good about disposing of this mail in an environmentally responsible way by conveniently situating paper recycling bins throughout the hallways. Unfortunately, the convenience also easily leads to many items finding their way into the bins which categorically do not belong there, according to Muir.

Such items include: paper napkins, cups, and other food-contaminated paper; plastic covers and file folder tabs; and general garbage. Newspapers are also a contaminant when mixed with regular office paper, due to the different kind of paper fiber (called "groundwood") used in newsprint production. Newspapers should be recycled in separate, specifically designated bins found near MBA mailboxes and lock boxes.

Though reducing these types of contamination would improve the quality of the paper mix Peninsula Sanitary sells, Ms. Muir said that the GSB content is relatively "clean". In fact, she was quite content with the contract negotiated with Building Services, explaining that the paper waste generated at the GSB makes up a disproportionately large amount of the recycled paper collected campus-wide.

So are there better uses for all of this paper that the GSB generates and so responsibly recycles?

Cost Savings Possible

From a cost standpoint, the GSB could reduce the service fees paid to Peninsula Sanitary for collection (twice versus once per week) by reducing paper use. Most of the paper that is recycled is printed only on one-side, creating an abundant source of scrap paper that could be used again before broken down and re-constituted into pulp. For example, this author actually uses her MTCs as a substitute for notebook paper for class and homework assignments. Wendy Fenton, MBA 1, suggested that 8-1/2 x 11 notices announcing MTCs, speakers, or other GSB events could be used as scrap paper in the computer lab for printing e-mail messages or assignment drafts.

In terms of specific cost savings to Stanford, Building Services would not provide data on how much they pay Peninsula Sanitary for their recycling collection, except to say that the service is based on a cost-per-barrel formula.

Is E-mail the Answer?

As a possible solution, substituting electronic mail for paper to convey information seems to have some limitations. As Michael Schmier, MBA 2, explained, "our electronic information system is inadequate for transmitting all of the information provided by paper flyers. There are no easily accessible electronic bulletin boards, and the e-mail system is unreliable. Our system can't handle the volume." On the other hand, as Josh Silverman, MBA 1 commented, "there's a lot of duplication of information communicated through e-mail, mailbox notices, and posted flyers. Some of it could be eliminated."

But such choices are primarily in the hands of students, Silverman explained, who must weigh the relative costs of informing versus numbing students with data overload. Moreover, "there's no culture among the students to actually go somewhere to look for something," added Michael Schmier. "No one takes advantage of the computer calendar [by the lock boxes] or the bulletin boards, or goes to specific clubs to find out about upcoming events. They expect the information to be conveniently given to them in their mailbox."


Last but not least, there is a cost that extends beyond the GSB budget. As John Mark Rogers, MBA 1, commented, "on the one hand, we claim to care about the environment. After all, there are recycling bins all over campus. But then look at all the paper we generate." The issue relates to the commitment at the GSB to the goals articulated in this year's Public Management Initiative, "Global Sustainability: Business, the Environment, and Responsible Development," which through events and activities this year is exploring GSB members' ability to conduct "business" in ways that can benefit present and future members of the GSB community and the world as a whole.

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The VIRTUAL Reporter
Stanford University Graduate School of Business