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Speaking Out
February 19, 2008, Volume 54, No. 22

Changing Human Behavior

Eugene Buckley’s letter (Almanac February 5) was well received here.

Last May, I cleaned out my office here, 337 McNeil. I discovered a lot of metal. I didn’t know what to do with it. So I just put it in my trash can, where, poof, it disappeared. Where did it go? To some landfill somewhere, I’m sure.

Dr. Buckley writes that he’s sure many trash items end up in mixed paper receptacles, with or without trash cans beside them. I can attest to it. What did I find in those receptacles? Metal, half-eaten sandwiches, styrofoam coffee cups, generally empty, all kinds of interesting items.

Our bookstore presses on you plastic bags to hold your books you’ve just bought. What happens to these bags? To some landfill, by some route.

Being disabled, I spend a lot of time at the University’s hospital. I’m always finding leaking faucets in the men’s rooms. Members of the recycling committee should take a tour of these places.

I’ve had to decline membership in my own association, cancel a subscription to the Times Literary Supplement, drop off editorial boards of various journals, just to avoid plastic-wrapped periodicals. But, really, what good does that do? I feel virtuous, that’s all. I’ve not made the world better in any way.

We have to pay more attention to this “human behavior” that Dr. Buckley wrote about.

—Dan Vining,
Population Studies Center

Response from RecycleMania

Your letter and Professor Buckley’s (Almanac February 5) get to the heart of why we decided to bring RecycleMania to Penn. The event is designed to create a dialogue so that recycling is no longer seen as an individual behavior, but rather a collective one. On an individual level, it is often hard to feel like one is making a difference, but when we record and analyze the efforts of the entire Penn community, the impact becomes much more apparent.

In support of RecycleMania many changes are already underway. Later this spring, the Penn Bookstore will be one of the first Barnes and Noble collegiate stores to pilot the use of biodegradable bags. Penn Dining Services has eliminated the use of plastic bags in its retail and residential dining operations, offering paper bags and encouraging customers to bring their own reusable bags.

Launching RecycleMania also involved working closely with schools, centers and departments to examine their current practices and suggest improvements. In Penn’s decentralized environment, the responsibility for recycling rests with each departmental unit. Many departments have begun to change behaviors, but if you see ways in which recycling can be improved in your school, such as adding more recycling containers or providing clearer instructions, we encourage you to contact your building administrator. You can also send your questions and suggestions directly to  Recyclemania@pobox.upenn.edu. The RecycleMania website (www.upenn.edu/recyclemania) also has information about Penn’s recycling practices.

Penn’s data from RecycleMania has already shown an increase in the total amount of recycling across campus. Can we do more? Absolutely! We know that raising awareness is only the first step. As you so aptly said, we have to change behavior. If everyone in the Penn community follows RecycleMania’s simple instructions to: Stop! Think! and Recycle!; we will certainly increase our impact. In fact, we already have.

—Laurie Cousart,
RecycleMania Planning Committee

Almanac - February 19, 2008, Volume 54, No. 22