Thanks to the folks at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ for having me as a speaker at their recent Science Scholars Symposium. They seem to have a great interdisciplinary honors program going there with a lot of undergraduate research.
Former New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Charles Kuperus opened the symposium with a very interesting talk about farms and food in New Jersey. The state has a considerable amount of agricultural land, though as with most states, far less than what it once had. Part of Secretary Kuperus’ mission was the preservation of farmland. During his tenure, 85000 acres of farmland were preserved. Mr. Kuperus also spoke about the local angle – the renewed interest in consumers purchasing their food from nearby farmers. (Note that in the OR world, Laura McLay wrote a post touching on the local food movement here.)
I spoke about green OR and the undergraduate green-OR-related research I have advised at the Coast Guard Academy including last year’s waste flow optimization and this year’s hazardous waste tracking. Some good questions and comments came up during the Q&A following the talk. Dr. Robert Mayans, math professor and head of the Science Scholars program shared the following about designing to avoid waste from his time in industry:
At Lucent Technologies, the design of wired equipment was significantly changed to meet the recycling and disassembly requirements of the European markets. This put an emphasis on reusable versus custom components, use of nonhazardous materials for easy disposal, changes in packaging and delivery, and many other design changes.
There was also an interesting question wondering about quantifying people’s behavior with regard to recycling. That is, if a certain recycling rate is desired, how much does it cost (in education, outreach, well-designed receptacles, etc.) to cause people to change their behavior to reach that goal. I know I have seen this type of behavioral work in OR, but not with respect to recycling. Sounds like it could be a fertile area of research.