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Employee program to recycle small things gets big results, campus award

May 22, 2013

Has your pen dried up? Don’t throw it away – recycle it. Got a handful of rubber bands from today’s newspapers and mail? Send them back to Mail Services – they need them.

ASU Materials Management has created a collection system for all kinds of used office supplies that is saving money and manpower for the staff of ASU Recycling and moving ASU toward its goal of achieving Zero Waste by 2015.

In the two and a half years prior to January, they took in more than 400 pounds of CDs, DVDs, plastic jewel cases and more than 150 cell phones. Toner cartridges collected over three years totaled more than 17,200. In just six months, they have collected more than 2,500 writing instruments and more rubber bands than they can count.

The Materials Management team won an ASU President’s Award for Sustainability this spring for their innovative program that uses existing delivery and pick-up routes to collect the used items.

Formed by the 2011 merger of ASU Stores and University Mail Services, Materials Management already had daily pick-ups and deliveries to most ASU departments. ASU Stores had begun picking up used toner cartridges the year before as they delivered supplies, even beating the University of Arizona that year in a competition to see who could collect the collect the most.

One day a Mail Services clerk who was delivering the daily mail to a department saw a staff member dumping rubber bands in the garbage can.

“Wait a minute, you don’t have to throw those out,” she said. “Mail Services recycles those. We need rubber bands.”

From that observation grew a concerted campaign by Mail Services to pick up used pens, highlighters, mechanical pencils and markers; rubber bands of all sizes; small electronic peripherals, such as cell phones, CDs and mice; and disposable plastic tape dispensers. Flyers went out and employees across campus began placing the items in envelopes and dropping them in intercampus mail bins.

“It has happened organically, with individual employees volunteering to help, and each little item adding up to a greater whole,” says Maureen King, manager of Materials Management. “The work is spread out over lots of people, but the effect is substantial.”

Toner cartridges go to companies that clean and refill or recycle them, and cell phones are sent to ASU Surplus or recycling. Pens are sent to a company that recycles them and pays two cents each, with the proceeds going to the ASU Foundation. Mail Services reuses all the rubber bands they can get.

King says the next step is to work with Classroom Scheduling to place collection boxes in hundreds of classrooms to collect pens, pencils and dry erase markers that otherwise would be thrown in the trash and dumped in the landfill.

“It’s the little things that add up,” says King. “Each act does not have much impact by itself, but collectively all this work leads to the larger goal of creating a sustainable future.

“It’s become quite a passion for me. All of us can be doing something. ASU employees are terrific at this, always looking for one more way where they can make a difference.”