Ohio Today Online Winter 2002
For Alumni and Friends of Ohio University
 

HOME | FEATURES | DEPARTMENTS | CLASS NOTES | BACK ISSUES | OHIO FRONT DOOR

 

Other Features:

Forever Changed

The Most Reverend Recycler

Calling Their Shots

To Love, Honor & Collaborate

Rookie of the Year

International Waters


Sidebar

At ease with being green

 

 


Most Reverend Recycler

 

Ed Newman

 

Ed Newman, who has headed Ohio University's Campus Recycling Program for 11 years, aims to reduce waste 80 percent from 1990 levels.
Photo by Gary Kirksey

University trash has met its match in environmental watchdog Ed Newman

By Corinne Colbert

As a fifth-grader delivering newspapers in South Euclid, Ohio, Ed Newman often picked up litter and put it in his neighbors' trash cans. One day, he realized that his neighbors threw out a lot of useful stuff -- and it bothered him. It still does, but he's doing something about his neighborhood these days.

For the past 11 years, Newman has headed Ohio University's Campus Recycling Program, one of the most proactive of its kind in the nation. The University ranks among the top schools in the 175-member College and University Recycling Council - whose members include the universities of Vermont, Colorado and Oregon as well as Harvard, Cornell and Stanford - in the percentage of trash that is recycled. (Newman says almost half the trash on campus escapes the landfill.)

"Ohio University started looking at reduction of waste before it became a state mandate," he notes. "Now it's really a benefit for us. We're ahead of the game."

In large part, that's because of Newman. A self-proclaimed "flaming environmentalist," he considers recycling his personal mission. And Ohio University is just the starting point.

"I'm trying to get this behemoth institution in line," he says, grinning. "Then I want to spread the message." If Newman sounds evangelical, well, he is. Recycling is a passion that is a cornerstone of his personal philosophy. His boyhood revelation picked up steam in the late '70s and early '80s, when awareness of mankind's impact on the environment became part of the zeitgeist.

He came to Athens in 1975 as an environmental biology major but after six years on campus still hadn't found his niche. In the fall of 1980, he attended the Land Institute, a unique educational organization in Salina, Kan., that focuses on sustainable agriculture and the harmony of people and the earth. There Newman discovered a world view he had felt in his heart all along but hadn't been able to articulate.

He transferred his credits back to Ohio University to complete his environmental biology degree in 1981 and soon landed a job running the Athens City-County Health Department's nascent recycling and litter control program. Soon, recyclers' options grew from drop-off days at the county fairgrounds to weekly curbside service.

There's politics in trash, too

The grassroots experience helped Newman add political savvy to his repertoire. Cities and institutions aren't necessarily swayed by the idea of saving the earth, he found. Saving money, on the other hand, is a powerful argument. And as landfill space became scarce and the waste-hauling industry consolidated, garbage collection was growing expensive. Recycling didn't just save money -- less garbage to dump means lower landfill tipping fees -- it made money, because cans, newspapers, cardboard and other materials can be sold.

"It's cheaper to recycle than to landfill," Newman says. "If institutions can't save money on it, it doesn't make sense to do it."

So when Ohio University got hit with a $75,000 hike in trash collection fees in 1989, the time was right for Newman to step up to a bigger pulpit. In the University, he says, he had a true environmental sinner, one that generated hundreds of thousands of pounds of waste a week -- and all of it heading to the landfill.

With a small cadre of student workers, Newman put recycling bins all over campus and mapped out a route for collection by the Athens County Recycling Center. He worked with custodians to devise an alternate trash-recycling pickup schedule to keep the stuff moving. ("Trash and recyclables are the same stuff," he says, "they're just in different containers.") And he preached the recycling gospel to students, faculty and staff any chance he got.

A little more than a decade later, the recycling program is a resounding success. In 2000-01, Ohio University recycled 2,366.7 tons of material -- from cans to carpet. That figure is up more than 790 tons from the previous year. Not only does the program keep plenty of waste out of landfills, it reduced the University's trash bill at least 15 percent between 1990 and 1999.

Newman's quick to credit the success of the program not to himself, but to the efforts of many -- his workers, the custodians, the faculty and staff who pitch in and the Athens County Recycling Center. "Everybody doing a little bit adds up to a lot," he says.

But his mission isn't complete.

"My goal is an 80 percent reduction in waste from 1990 levels with minimal or no interruption in operations," he says. "We will meet or exceed that."

Newman is constantly thinking about ways to improve Ohio University's recycling efforts. Last year, he cooked up a contest between the Athens campus and Miami University. During the 10-week Recyclemania competition, Bobcats and Redhawks tried to see who could recycle the most stuff. Miami won, but Newman vows a comeback. Another competition involving more schools is planned this year.

Surprisingly, students have been the hardest to convert, Newman says, noting that 70 percent of the University's waste comes from the residence and dining halls. He's working with Residence Life, Dining Services and others to reduce waste from those quarters. Bulletin boards in the residence halls will promote recycling and waste reduction, and each hall has a "waste buster" who serves as a recycling cheerleader.

"I'm trying to take advantage of more students as rallying points rather than me speaking from the pulpit of the Church of Recycling," he says.

Backed by a sea of support

 

 

The campus recycling team includes (front row, from left) Ed Newman, junior Zack Schultheis and senior Derek Myers and (back row) freshman Trevor Bullock, senior Justin Goodwin and Campus Recycling Coordinator Henry Woods.
Photo by Rick Fatica

No church exists without acolytes, and Newman has plenty. Each year, he takes under his wing a crew of eight or nine students. He has the greatest respect for them.

"Students go through emotional rollercoasters in college," he says. "They're going to school, working here and doing other stuff, too -- activism, extracurricular activities, maybe dealing with family issues."

Newman's managerial style emphasizes teamwork and cooperation, which not only gets the job done but also creates esprit de corps. "We are like a big, smelly family and Ed's the father," says Eric Harssema, a senior adventure recreation major who has worked for Newman since September 2000.

Although the custodial staff picks up office recyclables, there always are other things to be retrieved. On a given day, Newman's student workers may carry huge partitions down three flights of stairs or salvage junk computers to retrieve scrap materials. And they love him for it.

"Ed doesn't expect you to do anything that is physically dangerous at all," says Robert Kaminski, who worked for Newman for two years while studying English at the University. "He just makes you look at situations differently, with the attitude that it can be done somehow, and it usually can. He's not the kind of boss who would tell you to do anything that he wouldn't do; he'll do it first, and you'll want to follow."

Some of the places they follow are extremely unpleasant. Ohio University has more than 90 Dumpsters on campus. Newman and his workers occasionally climb inside them to see what's there.

"It's a troubleshooting tool," Newman says. "What aren't we getting done? Where is the stuff coming from? Is there waste from off-campus there?" From a single Dumpster dive, Newman can determine where he needs to reinforce the recycling message.

One example: After finding unopened food packages in Dumpsters when the residence halls closed, Newman instituted a food collection drive at the end of fall quarter. The first, in fall 1999, yielded two tons of food that was donated to local charities. Subsequent drives picked up slightly less, but still a significant amount of food.

Other Dumpster expeditions are less educational than entertaining. Justin Goodwin, a senior majoring in geography, recalls finding a box of snappers, tiny white sacks of gunpowder that make a loud bang when thrown to the ground.

"Ed proceeded to sneak up behind people and set them off," he says. "This began a short war and we eventually got him back by booby-trapping his office and bicycle." (Big surprise: Newman's preferred mode of transportation is a bike.)

The students' experiences with Campus Recycling Program not only build happy memories but also show them the errors of their ways.

"I became very conscious about my waste, recycling and reusing everything possible at home," says Glen Crippen, BS '00, now associate director of environmental education at Oglebay Institute in Wheeling, W.Va. "I also got my family to start recycling, which they had never done."

Jessica Reitz, BA '00, is recycling coordinator for the College of Wooster (a job she got with Newman's recommendation). Kaminski is an AmeriCorps volunteer at ReUse Industries, an area agency that refurbishes discarded items for resale. Others, including Goodwin, also are considering recycling-related careers after graduation.

They credit their choices to Newman, who is humbled by his students' adoration. Despite his true-believer passion for his work, he is a self-effacing prophet, the kind of guy who puts his hands in his pockets and kicks at the ground in embarrassment when asked about his accomplishments.

"All I try to do is run a good operation," he insists. "I'm nothing in all this. I'm just a figurehead."

But how many figureheads dive into stinky, sticky, bee-filled Dumpsters alongside their workers? Or help ease their charges through the turmoil of young adulthood? Or beseech them for ideas to make the operation run more efficiently?

"The recycling crew probably works harder and dirtier that anyone else on campus," Kaminski says. "They do it because of Ed."

Opportunities to spread the word

Newman stands near the loading dock outside the Campus Recycling Program headquarters in the Central Classroom Building. The dock is piled with bags of recyclables picked up from the past Saturday's football game. A man sentenced to community service by a local court empties the collected bottles and cans before tossing them into sorting containers. (Last year, these individuals put in about 2,500 hours of work at the recycling operation.)

"Event recycling is a big thing for us," Newman says. "We typically get a 50 percent or more reduction of waste at games through recycling, which is pretty good."

But Newman is most proud of his atypical ventures. The dock is piled high with wooden shipping pallets. Although they are made of hardwood -- 57 percent of Ohio's hardwood harvest is made into pallets -- many businesses just throw them away. But Ohio University sells or gives its used pallets to a pair of local businesses, which repair and resell them.

And then there are the mattresses. Last summer, Newman and his crew sent 800 used dorm mattresses to the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Cleveland. The charity strips them down to their metal springs, sanitizes them, rebuilds them and sells them back to the University for about 70 percent of the price of a new mattress.

Nothing makes Newman happier than making money off recycling, and the pallets and mattresses are examples of a pinball-like bonus: The University saves money by not having to pay landfill fees to dump the pallets and mattresses. Then it sells them to a local business or charity, which supports the economy. And then it saves even more money by buying refurbished pallets or mattresses at a significant discount.

Newman is determined not to be a burden, at work or home. Off campus, he collects honey from bee hives 400 pounds of it last fall. Among his favorite collectibles are old bricks that he trades with other "brickheads." He doesn't even buy office supplies for his department; he gets an ample supply from the recyclables collected elsewhere.

It's a manifestation of his personal beliefs. It's about being a citizen of the world, and he wants everyone to think about what that means.

"Americans consume 40 percent or more of the world's resources, but we're only about 5 percent of the population," he points out. "In essence, we're a bad neighbor in the world community in terms of how much we consume."

Ohio University and Athens could represent the same situation in microcosm. The University is a resource-rich institution in one of the poorest areas of the state. It would be arrogant, in the face of so much need, for the campus to simply throw away what could be reused, refurbished or recycled, Newman says.

"Our waste is a heck of a resource," he preaches. "Instead of burying stuff after one use, we should be turning these things back into higher value items. That's what nature does it recycles resources back into itself. We haven't figured out how to do that too well yet, but we're working on it."

Corinne Colbert, BSJ '87, MA '93, is a freelance writer living in Amesville, Ohio.