Annenberg Recycling Pilot Program

To reduce waste in the Annenberg towers, the main building of Icahn School of Medicine (MSSM), three second-year MSSM students launched a project to determine how to increase the amount of recycled waste at the medical center. These students aimed to demonstrate that placing recycling bins throughout the campus was not enough to maximize the amount of recycled waste. Instead, they believed that a cultural change would be necessary.

To test this theory, students posted fliers to increase awareness about environmental initiatives and weighed the amount of recycled material both before and after signs were posted. They also administered surveys to measure employees’ attitudes about recycling. Surveys were conducted before and after signs were posted.

Ultimately, the students found that the amount of recycled waste increased after environmental awareness was promoted. They also found that attitudes about recycling shifted. After educational signs were posted, more employees reported that they considered the environment when disposing their trash. Similarly, more employees believed that hospital management was significantly committed to the environment.

The Participants and Locations

Study participants totaled 100 staff and faculty, all located on two floors (17 and 21) of the Annenberg Building at the Icahn School of Medicine. In the Annenberg Building, each floor consists of four hallways, designed in a rectangle, with offices and laboratories jetting off the hallways. Each floor houses about 50 employees, and the layout and design of the floors are approximately the same.

At baseline, every office and laboratory contained at least one trashcan. In most cases, each desk or workstation had a trashcan. Each floor also had a green bin to recycle plastic, metal, and glass. On the 21st floor, a paper recycling bin was located in one of the kitchen areas; on the 17th floor, a paper recycling bin was located near the main elevators, overflowing with discarded medical journals. Each floor had separate bathrooms for men and women, and the bathrooms were the only areas shared by the many departments working on these floors.

The Methodology

A month into the study, the students posted a sign asking for volunteers to become Team Representatives for Environmental Excellence (TREEs) for each floor. To limit influences on recycling behavior, the sign did not fully explain the nature of the program. It simply stated that the floor would be involved in a program to improve Mount Sinai’s carbon footprint and asked interested staff to contact study investigators and become floor leaders.

The students then designed a survey to measure attitudes, views, practices, and understanding of recycling among participants. The survey was distributed during the last week of the baseline waiting period. In an email, the students explained to employees that their floor was chosen to participate in a recycling pilot program to help improve recycling at Mount Sinai.

Before the interventions, employees on the 17th floor recycled 2.5 pounds of plastic, metal, and glass each day, and they recycled no paper. Afterwards, they recycled 7.47 pounds of plastic, metal, and glass, and they recycled 8.97 pounds of paper each day. Similar increases were seen on the 21st floor. Before the interventions, staff recycled 1.22 pounds of plastic, metal, and glass, and they recycled 2.24 pounds of paper each day. Afterwards, they recycled 4.33 pounds of plastic, metal, and glass, and they recycled 14.95 pounds of paper each day.

Conclusions

Ultimately, these measurements illustrate that recycling habits can be changed when awareness is promoted. During the study, the students distributed the same survey twice – once before the interventions and the same after the interventions. Before the interventions, students found that most employees (75%) felt that recycling was important; however, only 25% claimed they always considered the environment when disposing trash. After the interventions, close to 40% said they always considered the environment when disposing trash.

Similarly, before the interventions, less than 50% of employees described themselves as interested in environmental issues. After the interventions, that number jumped to 65%.

Despite the fact that there were receptacles on both floors to recycle paper, only 33% said they were aware of this before the interventions. After the interventions, 92% of employees reported that there were receptacles for them to recycle paper.

Before the interventions, 17% of staff reported that most of the people in their office recycle; afterwards, this number jumped to 42%. Likewise, before the interventions, 38% of staff felt that hospital management was significantly committed to the environment; afterwards, that number approached 70%.

Given the impact of awareness – and its ability to both increase recycling and change employees’ attitudes – these students believe that their pilot program should serve as a model for new recycling initiatives at the Icahn School of Medicine.