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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


One man, striving for sustainability on campus

Michael Youdelman has been on a crusade for sustainability since he was young. (Kenneth Ho / The Statesman)

A 6-year-old boy gazed at the television screen one evening in 1971 and watched his uncle speak to a news reporter about explosions that had leveled a couple of houses in Port Washington, N.Y.

Caused by neither terrorism nor a gas leak, but rather an underground accumulation of methane gas from a nearby landfill, the explosions could have been avoided, if only the town had more closely monitored the landfill, according to his uncle, a prominent community group leader.

Although the 6-year-old didn’t entirely understand what was going on, he could see the passion on his uncle’s face, and hear it in his words, as he tried to convince politicians that the environment needed more protective regulations.

Thirty-eight years later, Michael Youdelman coughed between sentences, a constant reminder that he was recovering from walking pneumonia. Despite still feeling weak, Youdleman’s voice was filled with enthusiasm, as if he were talking about recycling for the first time.

“I didn’t want to be a politician,” he said. “I wanted to come up with solutions.”

Youdelman is the manager of Recycling and Resource Management at Stony Brook University.

For 11 years, he has supervised the collection of recycled materials at all of Stony Brook’s campuses, and tried to educate students, faculty and administrators about the benefits of recycling. Although it has been over 35 years since he first watched his uncle on the news, Youdelman still emulates his uncle’s passion for educating people about their impact on the environment.

He said he continues to channel that passion into increasing the amount of materials that are recycled on the three campuses as well as collaborating with the hospital, despite the fact that his solid waste budget hasn’t seen an increase since he was first hired.

That was in 1998, Youdelman’s first and most difficult year at Stony Brook. “There was no budget for anything,” Youdelman said. He said the recycling efforts were minimal, with very little infrastructure. Despite the lack of funding, Youdelman traveled to college campuses around the Northeast to observe their recycling programs.

In those days, recycling in the dormitories on campus was almost nonexistent. Now, every room has recycling bins for paper and bottles. The number of recycling bins on campus and in the dining halls have increased at Stony Brook from four years ago.

Recycling in the dorms was the start of some influential student programs.

Four  years ago, Youdelman entered Stony Brook into Recylemania, a West Campus and nationwide recycling competition. For 10 weeks, usually at the beginning of the spring semester, each dorm quad competes to accumulate the biggest amount of recyclable materials. The winning quad receives $500, which is significant, because the budget for student programs in most buildings is under $1,000.

According to Maroof Ali, the vice president of the Environmental Club,“The more times the message is put out there about recycling and sustainability, the more people become interested in it.”

The interest among Stony Brook students is already high. In the statewide Recyclemania, the university ranked second among 21 colleges in two categories: the amount of paper recycled per person, and the total amount recycled. In the national contest, Stony Brook ranked 66 out of 293 schools in overall recycling, according to the National Recycling Coalition, the chief sponsor of the competition.

One of Youdelman’s recycling achievements has saved the university almost $5 million over the past seven years. Used concrete, scrap metal and wood scraps, as well as topsoil, are stored in the municipal recycling and handling area on the West Campus, awaiting re-use, at a fraction of the cost of new materials.

The traffic circle near Roth Quad on Circle Road, was built of recycled materials, at a savings of $200,000, confirmed Peter Scully, the regional director for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The DEC not only has its office on the West Campus, but one of its main priorities is to “foster green and healthy communities,” Scully said.

Storing and re-using soil is also one of the reasons the university saved $5 million. Construction in Roth Quad could have meant that soil excavated during the laying of new pipes would have had to be trucked to storage off campus and then retrieved as needed.

Now it is stored on campus for free, saving the costs of gasoline and wages spent if workers trucked the soil back and forth to some distant dumping station. Shorter trips mean fewer emissions too, Youdelman said.

Asked about Stony Brook’s recycling program, Scully said, “I could sum them up with one word: impressive.”

He praised Youdelman’s efforts at recycling the “not so easily recyclable” materials, such as concrete, metals and batteries. According to the DEC, the university recycled just under 70,000 tons of material in the 2008-2009 academic year.

Youdelman’s said the improvements in recycling happen in part because he is a “middle of the road environmentalist,” rather than a radical, and is able to see perspectives other than his own. This is crucial, because success hinges on cooperation among departments: his, residencies, dining, student activities and the administration.

“Many people would become frustrated by the operational challenges, but he confronts it with gusto,” Scully said.

Youdelman stressed that recycling is a team effort, and that he is just one player. “I believe that everyone is an environmentalist,” he said. “Do what you can where you can.

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