By Monica Chapman
Ed Newman wears many hats. Music fans and the Tuesday night regulars at Jackie O's know him best for his musical talents on the hammer dulcimer as a member of Celtic band "Boys of the Hock." Among fellow brick collectors, Newman is known as a brick history aficionado. Still others admire him as a beekeeper, community advocate or friend. But at Ohio University, his name is synonymous with recycling, and it's this hat for which Newman is being recognized today.
This morning, the National Recycling Coalition honored Newman -- Ohio University's recycling and refuse manager -- with the Tim McClure Award for Outstanding Environmental and Community Leadership at the NRC's annual Congress and Expo in Pittsburgh. Outlook caught up with Ed before his departure to discuss his passion for recycling, which has defined his career at Ohio University.
You call yourself a "trash man," but that really doesn't do justice to your role here at Ohio University. Why sell yourself short?
If I say I'm in recycling, people go "Huh?" But if I say I'm a trash man, it kind of cuts to the chase. But I'm a contemporary trash person. I'm trying to turn liabilities into assets.
Liabilities and assets? I thought we were talking about garbage.
The economics of recycling is through the roof right now. Seventy percent of what we get rid of in our trash is recyclable, and we can't afford to throw it away anymore. This stuff is worth too much money!
So you're hoping to sell our trash. Is there a market for this?
Between recycling and trash on this campus, we probably generate somewhere in the neighborhood of 8,000 tons per year. When I talk about that much material to a broker, their eyes kind of light up a little bit. They get excited and want to do business with us.
What kind of profits are we talking about?
There's going to be avoided costs of disposal. There's going to be the revenues that are generated from the sales of these materials. And we'll be able to market the carbon reduction.
It sounds like there are some major changes under way in campus recycling.
We're hoping to completely revamp how we do business. We want to have a three-stream collection on campus, instead of source separation of every material.
One of the scenarios that we're looking at right now is to mix all the recyclables together, mix all the compost and biodegradables together, and then what's left goes in the trash -- which would be the minority material. We would sort those things mechanically as much as possible and then market them to brokers and manufacturers.
How long have you been involved in this sort of thing?
In 1984, we officially kicked off the first comprehensive curbside collection of recyclables in Ohio right here in Athens. At that time, I was working for the Athens City Health Department's solid waste program, so I was involved in the initiative. I've been working on solid waste-related issues ever since. When I came to OU in 1990, I was already stricken with the trash bug.
How has the "green culture" changed during your time at Ohio University?
Talking like how I'm talking now is a lot more possible. People are listening to it and thinking about it and engaging in it. And anytime that you can make practical applications to these ideas, through the operations of the university or the local community, that will add more value to the whole educational experience here at Ohio University.
How are students involved in Campus Recycling and Refuse?
Students are the bread and butter of my operations. I don't have any full-time equivalent workers except for one assistant. So these "young'uns" are running my operation to a large extent. And they in turn have been going into the world and getting careers in this stuff. So I'm sort of an informal mentor to these students. And now I have this network of people in the field here at the university and at other universities and cities around the country.
Networking has been key to the success of RecycleMania, the nationwide campus recycling program you worked to establish in 2001. Did you expect this event to gain momentum so quickly?
RecycleMania was a complete surprise to me. It's taken a life of its own ever since the beginning. Last year, we had 201 schools involved in the competition -- more than double the number of participants from the previous year.
And now RecycleMania has become this tool for all these other things to happen to further our mission of reducing waste. One of them is a partnership with the NCAA. They've formed a "green team," and one of the things they want to do is to green up their 80 tournament venues. And they're looking to us to help them with that process. It's very exciting!
What more can you ask for?
We're having a good residual effect elsewhere -- which is part of what I wanted to do with my work. But I also want to do that more effectively in my own community at OU. And we're working on that.
What are your hopes for Ohio University?
I'd like to have a zero waste institution. That's our goal.
A zero-waste institution? Is that even possible?
Look at it from the standpoint of workplace injury. You don't hear people saying, "We only want to have 20 people injured this year instead of 160." Just like in nature, we want all materials 100 percent utilized. We're trying to emulate natural processes.
We're bringing economic and environmental concerns together, and that doesn't often happen with those two ideas. That's the beauty of zero-ing our waste.
For a "trash man," you sure are enthusiastic about your work.
It's kind of a mission. Otherwise I wouldn't work so hard at it. I'm excited by the potential of what it could achieve.