The Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department (CCB) just wrapped up their first ever recycling competition, modeled after the successes achieved in many other buildings and departments on campus.

Due to the size and complexity of CCB, it was impossible to base the competition on offices or labs, as had been done in previous competitions. Instead, the competition pitted floor against floor across the entire CCB complex (consisting of the Conant, Converse, Mallinckrodt, and Naito buildings). The competition focused solely on non-lab space; i.e. offices, seminar rooms, and kitchens, leaving lab recyclables to be tackled at a future competition.

All four floors of CCB showed marked improvement over the course of the competition, as plastic cups and yogurt containers gradually stopped finding their way to the trash and ended up where they belong - in recycling! Furthermore, in true chemistry fashion, the scoreboards became the space for deeper conversations, as members of the community debated about the composition of paper cups and whether they were recyclable (spoiler alert: they are!).

As the Director of Laboratories and Co-Director of Graduate Studies, Allen Aloise said, “The competition had an unexpectedly large effect on the previously simple process of discarding items throughout the day.  Was that fork compostable or recyclable?  Could the plastic wrapping from a journal be recycled?  What about a used paper plate?  It was a very effective exercise in reexamining basic assumptions that are often made about what can and cannot be recycled.  It certainly changed the culture in the office I share with others.”

All told, a couple hundred researchers, staff, and graduate students took part in the three week long competition. This marks just another step in CCB’s green history. The Shut the Sash program that was started in CCB in 2005 is one of our most successful and widely replicated programs, and CCB continues to be on the forefront of sustainability at Harvard.