Material Lifecycles

Waste audit
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.

Learn more about our efforts to improve the material lifecycle on campus through procurement and waste reduction strategies.  For an overview, see an MIT Circular Economy Case Study published by our collaboration partner the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.


MITOS Vision for Material Lifecycles

To drive positive human and environmental impacts through procurement of goods, use of materials on campus and a reduction in campus waste.

Procurement

Procurement
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 product we purchase and bring into campus 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.

How might we promote circular material flows where we leverage our purchasing power to support products, suppliers, and manufacturers who are using recycled materials as inputs and re-directing their outputs towards inputs for other processes? If we are thoughtful about our supplier partnerships and product selections, 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 leverage MIT’s purchasing power to drive positive impacts in the world, strengthen communities, and serve as a model for others.

Strategies

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

  • promote use of re-usable goods in place of single-use items

  • develop a visible and accessible online re-use marketplace for surplus materials

  • seek partnerships with our suppliers to promote environmentally preferred products and alternatives

  • develop guidelines for purchasing materials that are made from renewable resources

  • 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 design out waste and drive circular economies via operations, education, research, and innovation in the following areas.

Material Flow Analysis
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? 

Panel
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
Sustainable Event Certification

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

Airplane
Scope 3 GHG Emissions

MITOS is gathering a preliminary picture of MIT’s Scope 3, or indirect, GHG emissions in order to inform MIT’s total greenhouse gas emissions activities (Scopes 1 + 2 + 3) and explore where strategic opportunities may exist to reduce emissions.

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

Bins
Designing out waste and contamination

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.

At the MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS), we are working with our campus operational partners; departments, labs, and centers; material scientists, behavioral researchers and MIT's waste hauler to design and test strategies that reduce the generation of trash and increase the amount of clean material (i.e. paper goods, plastics, and food waste) that can be recycled and re-processed. (Learn how a partnership with the MIT Media Lab offered actionable ideas and data on waste reduction)

Diverting waste from landfills and incineration can reduce air, water, and soil pollution, decrease emissions, recover and repurpose valuable materials, and compost and redirect surplus food. We're seeking to collect and organize data from campus waste audits to inform efforts to design out waste.

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

  • promote use of re-usable goods in place of single-use items

  • grow a visible and accessible online marketplace for re-use of surplus materials

  • develop guidelines for purchasing materials that are made from renewable resources

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

  • increase the diversion rate of campus waste through reuse, recycling, and processing of organic materials

  • test different strategies for communicating, collecting, handling and hauling waste materials
     

MITOS Focus Areas

MITOS is currently working collaboratively to design out waste and contamination of recyclable materials via operations, education, research and innovation in the following areas.

Electronic Waste
Material Flow Analysis

Through a partnership with the Environmental Solutions Initiative and the Vice President for Finance (VPF) 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? 

Material Matters
MIT Material Matters Dashboard

MITOS has partnered with the Office of Recycling and Materials Management to develop an open-source tracking and reporting tool called Materials Matters that reports the volume of 20 different recycling and solid waste outputs collected and transported from MIT on a monthly and yearly basis since 2011.  

group of people sort trash from blue bins
MIT Waste Contamination Studies

In recent years, the Office of Sustainability, in partnership with the Department of Facilities and other Institute departments, labs, and centers, has worked to pilot a number of studies focused on waste disposal practices and specifically waste stream contamination. 

MIT dome at night with lighted windows
Case Study: Driving the circular economy on a university campus

Designing out waste and driving a circular economy on a university campus: a complex, multi solution approach The MIT Office of Sustainability (MITOS) is committed to designing out waste from a campus of 168 urban acres and nearly 170 buildings.

Name tags
Sustainable Event Certification

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

Airplane
Scope 3 GHG Emissions

MITOS is gathering a preliminary picture of MIT’s Scope 3, or indirect, GHG emissions in order to inform MIT’s total greenhouse gas emissions activities (Scopes 1 + 2 + 3) and explore where strategic opportunities may exist to reduce emissions.

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.

Waste Audit
Responsible Waste Disposal Practices at MIT

Online course developed by the MIT GSC Sustainability Committee to help answer questions about what goes where in the waste streams at MIT.

 

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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. 

Re-Use

rheaply and mit logo spelled out

Discover new and used resources available now through Rheaply’s AxM platform

Rheaply and MIT have partnered to bring Rheaply’s award winning Asset Exchange Manager (AxM) to campus. Rheaply is a free to use marketplace that identifies available resources for reuse across different departments on campus. Finding local resources helps you save money and protects the environment, which makes MIT a more collaborative, resilient, and sustainable campus.

See Rheaply In Action: Rheaply Walkthrough Video .

Rheaply is open to MIT community members with a Kerberos account. You can list surplus equipment and offer it to the wider community as well as post requests for specific equipment and supplies you need for your lab, center, or department. You can also personalize your Rheaply homepage to filter items of interest and receive notifications when new items are posted.

How you can use Rheaply as...

Rehaply impacts to dateA lab manager

  • Use Rheaply to make the most out of your budget and cut down on excess ordering of lab materials by starting your procurement process with Rheaply

A graduate student

  • Use Rheaply to find lab equipment, reagents, consumables, and supplies from other departments at MIT to use for a research project

A staff member

  • Use Rheaply to manage the removal of unwanted furniture, lab equipment, or materials that previously might have been removed of in ways that are misaligned with MIT’s sustainability goals.

Visit rheaply.mit.edu and use your Kerberos to login to list items and find what you need while supporting a circular economy at MIT and beyond. Rheaply is now also accessible through the Coupa Supplier Portal .

Want to know more about the impact and approach of Rheaply? Explore a case study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. 

working green spelled out with green leaf

The mission of the MIT Working Green Committee is to develop and deliver programs that educate administrative and support staff about sustainability with a focus on recycling, reducing, and reusing goods. The Committee identifies and addresses gaps in staff understanding about working and living sustainably, and promotes the reuse revolution on campus. The Working Green Committee is a subcommittee of the Working Group on Support Staff Issues.