Richard Abraham wants your paper. Faxes, newspapers,
magazines, doesn't matter, he'll take all
of it. While you're at it, have any toner cartridges or
batteries to unload?
Since May 2007, Abraham has been Homewood's manager of
recycling and solid waste. The
enthusiastic Washington, D.C., native has made quite an
In his first full year on the job, Abraham has helped
significantly increase the university's
recycling rate, amount of materials recycled and revenues
generated from these products. While no
recycling data exist prior to Abraham's arrival, he
estimates that there's been a 25 percent to 30
percent increase over the past year in the amount the
Abraham took over a recycling program that existed in
a state of limbo and needed a jump-
start. JHU was collecting products like paper, bottles and
cardboard, but the program had been
languishing, in part due to a nine-month vacancy in the
recycling coordinator's position.
In stepped Abraham, a man with more than 25 years of
experience in the recycling industry.
From the moment he arrived, the day after Commencement,
Abraham knew that changes needed to be
"The program was in poor shape," he said. "Quite
simply, there was nobody in charge of the
department, so those who did the collecting arranged all
the pickups and moved all the material."
Collecting, he said, isn't easy. Most Homewood
buildings do not have loading docks on which to
consolidate waste, so trash and items set out for recycling
have to be individually removed from the
buildings. With a relatively small staff, the work was
time-consuming and labor-intensive.
Abraham also thought the collection system was
outdated and that the university was not
getting the best deal on what it recycled. For example, the
paper products collected were being
sorted since white paper had previously been considered the
only type of value; the other paper was
"Gradually, times change," he said. "Today, you can
recycle all of it. You can bundle up all the
paper and sell it as a mixed package, or do the labor and
separate it out yourself to maximize your
Abraham knows his paper. He started his career in
metal recycling but soon after moved into
the paper business because it was "cleaner and neater"
compared to dealing with steel from bridges or
Until joining Johns Hopkins, Abraham worked in the
public sector. He admits that, aside from
his days as an undergraduate at the University of Maryland,
he was unfamiliar with the college setting.
"It was a bit of a learning experience for me the past
year," he said. "As everyone knows, Johns
Hopkins is a decentralized institution, so you have to work
around that. In my favor, recycling is
second nature to me now. I know how to do it and what needs
to be done."
He first purchased two compactors, one placed behind
the old Carnegie Institution building for
paper and one behind Bloomberg Hall for trash. He also
eliminated three trash containers that he felt
were underused and were being emptied weekly whether full
or not. Like the trash bins, recycling bins
were emptied weekly, no matter how little was in them.
"I felt that was a waste of time and money," he
The compactors made an instant impact and paid for
themselves within nine months, Abraham
said. Compactors hold a lot more material than containers
— the paper compactor can hold nearly seven
tons — and are emptied only when full. "Now our
[recycling] vendor only has to come on average twice a
month. They haul it out and send it to the mill. It's a
much more efficient system," he said.
To address the collection issues, Abraham purchased
"toters," large plastic containers that he
plans to put in all the Homewood buildings. Compared to the
plastic bags previously used, the toters
(gray for trash and blue for recycling) hold more, are
easier to transport and work seamlessly with the
compactors. To date, nearly 30 percent of Homewood
buildings have been outfitted with the toters.
He also hired several students to augment the three-person,
full-time collection team. Some told him
Johns Hopkins students would not want such a position. He
proved them wrong when dozens applied
for the job.
Homewood's recycling program was launched in June 1996
to decrease waste generation and
handle waste materials in the most sensible and
environmentally safe manner possible. It currently
accepts paper, cardboard, cans, bottles, batteries, toner
cartridges, fluorescent light bulbs, plastics,
metals and electronics, anything from cell phones to
Abraham and his staff recycle on average 27 to 30 tons
of paper a month; 10 tons of glass,
plastic, aluminum and other metal; and two to four tons of
electronics. Most of the material comes
from Homewood, but Abraham has accepted materials from
other campuses and community sources.
The Homewood campus currently produces 115 tons of
trash a month with a recycling rate of 27
percent, an average figure for a university its size.
He said he's pleased with the progress, but not
"We can do better, and we will," he said.
He wants JHU's recycling rate in the area of 40
percent to 50 percent within the next two
years, with a long-term goal of zero waste.
Abraham also has his sights set on a much better
showing in next year's RecycleMania, an annual
10-week competition hosted by the National Recycling
Coalition that has U.S. colleges and universities
competing against each other to reduce and recycle the most
waste from their campuses.
Johns Hopkins participated in the competition for the
first time this past year and finished
24th out of 61 schools in the Partial Campus-Gorilla
(cumulative recycled pounds) category and 17th
out of 57 in the Partial Campus-Paper category.
In the future, Abraham has top-10 finishes in mind.
For more information on JHU Recycling, go to