Everywhere and All the Time
By ANA LUIZA NICOLAE
Past the Harvard Business School and Harvard Athletic Facilities, a quick stroll across the Charles River to Allston, MA leads the way to the Harvard Innovation Labs, comprising of the ArtLab, the LaunchLab X, and the Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab. These buildings are neighboring to the Science and Engineering Complex, which is currently under scheduled construction for the next few years. Easy to miss, however, is a nearby small brick building on Travis Street whose significance is often overlooked on first glance.
Contrary to its diminutive stature, the building is actually the home of Harvard’s Facilities Maintenance Operations, tasked with the critical role of providing Harvard students with transportation and mail services in order to foster education-conducive environments. This facility also strives to minimize the students’ impacts on the environment, most notably through recycling.
The left-hand entrance of the building opens to a looter’s den, where there are piled and arranged objects ranging from furniture, to decorations, to books, easels, and clothes: the Harvard Recycling & Surplus Center. What are the origins of this eclectic mix of objects? Certainly, some parts of the University are periodically refurbished, leaving the charismatic wooden chairs many affiliates have worn well to be discarded somewhere. It may also be the case that malfunctioning drawers can lead to a desk being removed from the dorm room of an undergraduate and promptly replaced.
The vast swath of objects, in actuality, comes from outgoing seniors, shares Recycling and Waste Manager, Rob Gogan. After the whole ritual of circulating ads through email lists has started and… failed, a surplus of discarded belongings are still not always passed onto Habitat for Humanity Harvard, instead being taken away by trucks. In light of this, Gogan ensures to find these belongings new homes. Every Thursday from 11am to 2pm, the facility is open to the public, where any person can come pick up and reuse the abandoned items for free. To accomodate for the large number of visitors taking advantage of this recycling program, this system operates on a first come first serve basis. This usually creates a swarm on Thursdays which carries away most of the items. Surprisingly, the belongings people throw out, leave behind, or utterly forget across the University sometimes find new lives some 1600 miles to the south. In particular, Rob Gogan mentions a whole cargo load of footwear that was donated to Haiti. Over the years, he has even developed quite a special bond with a few partners of the country, as encapsulated in part by the decorations in his office. Amidst a collection of diverse sculptures, Gogan sports a most special sculpture carved in Haiti and given to him in recognition of his kind support.
As the students of the Class of 2019 are prepared to make their mark on the world, one may wonder what they will leave behind. Alongside brilliant ideas and original projects, their passage might be quantified in paper cups and plastic wrappers. While discussing the most significant changes to his industry throughout the years, Gogan remarks, “now students want to eat everywhere, all the time.” Cafes have been instituted in libraries and student centers across campus, and Gogan shares the noticeable increase in “snacking” instead of the traditional three sitting meals. At the same time, with the sudden surge in paper containers for food and drinks has come the staggering decrease of paper for class notes and personal usage. Another flagrant distinction in the industry is exemplified by an anecdote Gogan shares about a Harvard faculty member; the massive transition to digitized content in recent years has left the renowned Professor David Malan searching across campus for physical phonebooks for his characteristic stunt in the first class of the course CS50. He makes a point of tearing it apart while searching for a “Mike Smith’’ in order to demonstrate the tediousness and completeness of various approaches to problem-solving—a joke now potentially rendered obsolete by Gogan’s observed industrial shift in the utilization of paper.
The Harvard’s Facilities Maintenance Operations, an important part of the reallocation of belongings left behind by the Class of 2019, remain invisible, managing to elude the everyday preoccupations of a Harvard undergraduate or affiliate. There are of course many students, such as those in the Research Efficiency Program, dedicated to thoroughly raising awareness about overconsumption and therefore encourage recycling single-use items. However, the due diligence pursued by Rob Gogan and the Recycling and Surplus services operators ensures an extended shelf life to objects discarded by the Class of 2019 that are intended for long-term usage in interior living.
Ana Luiza Nicolae ‘22 (email@example.com) writes Forum for the Indy.