The Athenian Q&A: Sustainability specialist Kelli Stephens

With an interest to understand what the college recycling policies are, and how students can better practice good recycling habits, Athenian reporter Maria Luisa Imbachi talked to Kelli Stephens, the sustainability and energy specialist for the Department of Facilities Management and Planning. Stephens also serves as the chair of the college’s Sustainability Committee, where she and her team monitor Hunter’s environmental impact to identify inefficiencies and advocate for ways to improve sustainability. Hired in January 2018, Stephens has an undergraduate degree from Wellesley College in environmental studies and a master’s degree from Columbia in sustainability management.

How much trash/waste do we generate at Hunter College?
Starting in 2019, Hunter College transitioned to a more consistent waste monitoring and tracking system to reduce the variance which is the inconsistency of recycling.  Hunter College utilizes a volume-based waste tracking and monitoring process, which means that each month, the values (volume of waste, mixed paper and cardboard, as well as metals, glass, and comingled plastics that were recycled on campus) are recorded and reported to Hunter’s sustainability coordinator.

What do we recycle at Hunter College?
The New York City Department of Sanitation is Hunter’s primary waste and recycling hauler, therefore all items accepted for recycling by the Sanitation Department are also accepted items for recycling at Hunter College, such as mixed paper, cardboard, metals, glass bottles and jars, beverage cartons and rigid plastics. The Hunter Department of Environmental Health and Safety also recycles household batteries and college-owned electronics, such as laptops, desktops, and printers.

Do the custodians dump the recycling material in with the regular trash? I saw a custodian emptying the recycling bins into a large trash bag.
Custodial personnel deliver all bagged trash and bagged recyclables collected from respective bins to a centralized storage location within each campus building. Several times a day, a custodial staff member stops at each central point to pick up and cart the waste and recycling bags to the lower level of Hunter’s West building, whereupon the bags are picked up by DSNY on a weekly basis.

Why don’t we recycle more types of items, such as soiled food items, Polystyrene Foam Cups or Containers? 
The items Hunter College collects on campus for recycling are limited to what DSNY accepts, in addition to the aforementioned items collected by Hunter’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety. The Sustainability Committee is currently exploring and evaluating ways that Hunter can expand its recycling program by raising awareness and access to information is a best practice utilized by colleges and universities to motivate and facilitate increased participation in recycling. In the college’s 10-Year Sustainability Action Plan, a Hunter Zero Waste Challenge and regular reporting of the campus’ waste generation total are two of the options being explored.

Why don’t we see more recycling bins around campus, especially in the cafeteria?
As part of the 10-year plan the Sustainability Committee is creating, committee members are setting new waste and recycling goals, among them, is to elevate the visibility of recycling bins.

How does the school motivate students to participate in campus recycling?
Hunter’s Sustainability Committee is continually assessing the options and opportunities to increase student participation in campus recycling. For example, for 2019 Earth Week, the committee is planning various student engagement activities to highlight the 10-year goals the committee has set for the campus, as well as to solicit opinions, reactions, comments and feedback from students on what resources or initiatives would motivate them to recycle more.

What’s the deal with restrictive openings on recycling bins?
Bins with restrictive openings reflect a time when Hunter’s recycling program was much narrower in scope in terms of what items were collected. The introduction of “open lid” bin models is among the goals the Hunter Sustainability Committee has set.

Any last thoughts?
Waste and recycling have always been, understandably, one of the more visual aspects to Hunter’s sustainability profile and image, and the college is committed to being responsive to students’ concerns and suggestions for improvement. Hunter prides itself on the strides and progress made in our sustainability performance (especially, in reaching the NYC Carbon Challenge target to reduce our energy use and carbon emissions) and we want to do all we can to make Hunter the “green” jewel of CUNY!

How can students get in touch about recycling issues?
The Hunter College Sustainability Committee is happy to hear from members of the Hunter community and welcomes any feedback and suggestions. Please reach out to us at

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