Material Lifecycles

Waste audit
Photo: MIT
Tracking the evolution of everything we use

With a community of nearly 25,000 students, faculty, and staff, MIT is like a tiny, densely populated city—a microcosm of the wider world. At the MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS), we’re taking a strategic look at the substantial amounts of materials that flow through the Institute to identify vital connections between the resources we purchase and those we discard.

The fact is, every point along the lifecycle of the materials we use day to day—from purchase to disposal—presents opportunities for financial, ecological, and health benefits. Are we optimizing those benefits in every way we can? How can our purchasing strategies minimize the amount of waste we generate? Can we convert our traditional waste streams into new, environmentally and socially beneficial resources?

We’re partnering with thought leaders across MIT to answer these questions and analyze the impact of the Institute’s purchasing and waste systems using next generation frameworks like urban metabolism. And we’re working to adopt mindful decision-making frameworks that consider the full lifecycle costs and impacts of materials and products as they move through the economy, are procured for use at MIT, and leave the campus via waste management, recycling, compost, and reuse.

Learn more about our efforts to improve the material lifecycle on campus through procurement and waste reduction strategies.

Procurement

Procurement
Photo: Pexels
Thinking carefully about what we buy

Laboratory equipment and computers, office supplies and campus vehicles, food and construction materials are just a few examples of the wide range of goods and services that MIT needs to carry out its educational mission. Each commodity we purchase has far-reaching implications that extend beyond the Institute’s borders, from the companies and economies that our purchases support to the environmental and human health chain reaction set into motion by their creation, use, and disposal.

If we are thoughtful about product and vendor selection, if we consider the lifecycle of the products we are purchasing, and if we collaborate on the development of creative purchasing solutions, together we can reduce MIT’s environmental impact, strengthen communities, and serve as a model for others.

Strategies

Here are just a few of the procurement strategies we’re exploring:

  • evaluate and factor in the lifecycle of materials during the purchasing process

  • purchase materials that are less toxic and made from renewable resources, contributing to a safer workplace

  • collaborate across departments to purchase in bulk, reducing energy use in the delivery of goods

  • support local economies and women- and minority-owned businesses

MITOS Focus Areas

MITOS is currently working collaboratively to transform campus material lifecycles via operations, education, research, and innovation in the following areas.

Material Flow Analysis
Photo: MIT
Material Flow Analysis

Through a partnership with the Environmental Solutions Initiative, this collaborative analysis asks the question: How can MIT optimize material flows and reduce its negative impacts through innovations in purchasing, consumption and disposal processes? 

Working Group Recommendations
Photo: Pexels
Working Group Recommendations

In November 2015, the MIT Office of Sustainability released the first set of recommendations, generated by the 2014-2015 Sustainability Working Groups, which address the following topics: building design and construction; stormwater and land management; materials management; and green labs.

Sustainable Event Certification
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Sustainable Event Certification

This Certification helps guide planners toward making smart choices about food, energy, transportation, and materials when planning an event at MIT.

Key Procurement Partners

Awarded “Preferred Caterer” status to local vendors based on criteria that includes the sustainability of the caterer’s practices.

Channels MIT’s unique culture to create solutions to environmental challenges through activities in education, research, and convening.

The Division of Student Life including its dining and housing offices are key partners in helping to understand and envision what sustainable food systems might look like on campus.  

Waste reduction

Bins
Photo: MIT
Minimizing the amount of waste we produce

When we hear “waste reduction,” we tend to think about reducing our contributions to the landfill or incinerator, but waste reduction is a more complex and far-reaching story. The collection, transportation, and disposal of waste have tremendous economic and environmental impacts on our communities. Waste is also a public-health issue and a quality-of-life issue.

While there is great value in establishing recycling programs to reduce the amount of disposed waste, it’s just as important to take steps to encourage reduction of the amount of waste generated in the first place. At the MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS), we are working to develop innovative, cost-effective, and socially responsible strategies to divert waste from landfills, reduce air, water, and soil pollution, decrease emissions, recover and repurpose valuable materials, and compost and redirect surplus food. 

Strategies

Here are just a few of the waste reduction strategies we’re exploring:

  • reduce or eliminate campus waste at or near the source of generation

  • purchase materials that are made from renewable resources

  • increase the diversion rate of campus waste through reuse, recycling, and composting

  • evaluate and factor in the lifecycle of materials during the purchasing process

MITOS Focus Areas

MITOS is currently working collaboratively to transform campus waste systems via operations, education, research and innovation in the following areas.

Electronic Waste
Photo: Megapixl.com
Material Flow Analysis

Through a partnership with the Environmental Solutions Initiative, this collaborative analysis asks the question: How can MIT optimize material flows and reduce its negative impacts through innovations in purchasing, consumption and disposal processes? 

Sustainability Connect
Photo: Ken Richardson
Recommendations from the MIT Sustainability Working Group

In November 2015, the MIT Office of Sustainability released the first set of recommendations, generated by the 2014-2015 Sustainability Working Groups, which address the following topics: building design and construction; stormwater and land management; materials management; and green labs.

Name tags
Photo: Ken Richardson
Sustainable Event Certification

This Certification helps guide planners toward making smart choices about food, energy, transportation, and materials when planning an event at MIT.

Additional MIT Initiatives

MITOS is part of a community of departments, labs, and centers working toward elements of a sustainable campus. Featured below are initiatives from some of our partners.

Clothing Swap
Choose to Reuse

Free gently used goods exchange held on the third Thursday of the month in the Stata Center lobby.

Waste Bins
D-Lab Waste

This introductory course focuses on understanding some of the multiple dimensions of the global waste system.

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Key Waste Reduction Partners

Works with administrative and student groups to increase the amount of recycled goods and the types of materials that can be recycled.

Works to develop and practice the most efficient methods of buying products and services for the MIT community.

Works with undergrads, faculty and administration to introduce and improve sustainable programs on campus.

Cultivates sustainable behaviors and systems in the graduate community and throughout MIT.

Channels MIT’s unique culture to create solutions to environmental challenges through activities in education, research, and convening.

Fosters a forum where students, industrial practitioners, and policy makers can discuss waste-sector issues and innovations.