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James Souder

Yale University, MS
Ice River Springs Master’s Scholarship for Sustainability

Closing the Loop and Increasing Material Recovery in Supply Chains and Production SystemsProject Description:
The current solid waste management and recycling systems rely heavily on consumer sorting behavior. Consumers are confused by the difference between single- and multi-stream recycling, and which types of materials can be recycled in their municipalities. For example, a 2016 Serco survey of over 12,000 people showed that 3 out of 10 people are confused by recycling information, and that 38% of participants cited product labeling and municipal recycling guidelines as points of confusion. In addition, data from the EPA estimates material recovery rates for paper at 55.5%, metals at 34.6%, glass at 23.1% and plastics at a mere 7.1%.

Souder’s research seeks to tackle this problem and build on momentum of using labels to inform recycling decisions and automatic waste sorting mechanisms. In a 2003 article published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology called “Toward Trash that Thinks: Product Tags for Environmental Management,” Steven Saar and Valerie Thomas outline an engaging argument for embedding recyclable items with bar codes to assist in material recovery logistics. Souder plans to examine different strategies for embedding recycling information into recyclable products, including UPC codes, QR codes, RFID tags and UV labels. Many items already have UPC codes, so he would research strategies to sync these labels to a location-based recycling database. A small-scale automatic sorting machine could be installed on trash and recycling bins to scan items and divert recyclable materials correctly. A successful system would eliminate human error in recycling decisions and would facilitate waste sorting operations to maximize material recovery.

James is a Masters of Environmental Management candidate at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. His specialization is Industrial Ecology and Green Design, focused on innovative solutions to waste management and pollution prevention. He will graduate in May 2018. Before coming to Yale, James worked for three years on a variety of environmental initiatives ranging from spearheading food recovery programs to implementing city-level climate action plan recommendations. Last summer, he interned with a venture capital firm that funds environmental clean tech startups. He graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Environmental and Social Sustainability from Eastern Mennonite University in 2013.