Keeping the 375th Green

Harvard’s recycling services aim to keep Friday’s big birthday party “zero-waste.”

All stacked up and ready to recycle

Mindful of the mantraGreen is the new Crimson,” the 375th anniversary party organizers decided to make their celebration zero-waste, with food served from recyclable or reusable containers, all service ware compostable or recyclable, and all leftovers donated or composted. Multiple offices have helped plan for that goal, including the Hospitality and Dining Services and the Office for Sustainability; when it comes to implementing those plans, the University’s Operations Services recycling unit will be on the front lines.

Recycling and waste manager Rob Gogan got his first party-related call during the summer: what about proposals by some Harvard schools to supply glow sticks to students, to illuminate their twilight processions to the Yard? No go, said Gogan, who researched the colorful decorations and discovered that the hydrogen peroxide and other chemicals they contain makes them nonrecyclable.

As for dealing with the big night itself, Gogan and his crew have had plenty of experience working with dining services on previous big events, most recently the “Cape Crimson!” welcome-back-to-Cambridge bash for undergraduates in Tercentenary Theatre in September. The two units collaborate to make sure that the service and container products used have been certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute and that efficient routines are in place for separating food waste from other recyclables.

“We’ll have recycling stations at every entrance to the Yard, and in the Yard and Theatre,” Gogan reports of his battle plans. Green-lidded containers will take food scraps, dishes, and service ware for compost; blue-lidded containers are for glass bottles, cans, plastic, and paper. Landscape services will have 10 people helping to keep bins emptied during the evening, with monitoring help from Crimson catering; two trucks will be stationed outside the Yard, to receive the loaded bags. Barring a “curve ball from Mother Nature”—rain means “guests scooting in and out of buildings, which makes it a lot harder to collect trash and recyclables” afterward—Gogan expects a smooth operation. His staff will be on duty until midnight Friday, and return Saturday morning for another go-round.

And that’s just for starters. This weekend, Gogan and his team will be dealing not only with the birthday bash, but with festivities surrounding Freshman Parents Weekend and the Game Day Challenge, a “friendly competition for colleges and universities to promote waste reduction at their football games,” sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency. “We’ll be out there Friday night, Saturday, and Saturday evening,” he says. “We’ve got our engines revved up.”

And when do they get to celebrate the 375th? “We have a departmental meeting on Tuesday afternoon,” he reports. “Maybe someone will salvage some cupcakes.” 

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