Students look for ways to improve performance of processes at recycling center

May 5, 2014

There is a lot more to being green than Lee Barker and Joe Carlson realized.

As part of an independent study project in the Scott College of Business' new Center for Supply Management Research, the two graduating seniors in operations and supply chain management examined the university recycling center using Arena, a simulation software that analyzes the performance of processes before implementation by a business.

The recycle center on Sycamore Street operates six-days-a-week and handles and transports waste, as well as recyclables, and saves Indiana State $1 million in landfill costs annually, according to Carlson. The hope is to build upon his research and create a model that will increase the recycle center's profits and entice more people to recycle.

The project was inspired by Dr. Kuntal Bhattacharyya, director of the Center for Supply Management Research and an assistant professor of operations and supply chain management, and initial research that he and his wife, Shikha Bhattacharyya did looking at trash management options in India. Shikha continues to serve as a critical consultant in this project.

The first phase of the project looked at what encourages people to recycle. Barker, who also graduated in May from the OSCM program, worked with Bhattacharyya to come up with five critical antecedents to one's propensity to recycle.

They identified them as 5C's - conscience, culture, convenience, consequences, and compensation. Caroline Savage, interim executive director of the Institute for Community Sustainability at Indiana State, and Paul Reed, Indiana State's manager of custodial and special services served as subject matter experts to fine-tune the five C's.

The research was recently presented at the 45th Mid-West Decision Sciences Conference in Chicago and received wide acclaim from both practitioners as well as academics. Barker also created a detailed survey to test the research questions. The survey is under preparation to be administered soon.

The Bhattacharyyas, with assistance from Concetta DePaolo, professor of operations and supply chain management at Indiana State, are planning to publish the final work with Resources, Conservation, and Recycling, a leading Elsevier journal in pollution and waste management. "The outcome of this research will be a perfect ‘input' to Carlson's model", said Bhattacharyya.

Based on Carlson's research, he estimated that there is a 50/50 split between materials from on- and off-campus, but he wasn't able to model times between cars dropping off materials during the business day. The project's second phase will involve remodeling the recycling center from scratch, looking elements such as machine and process times.

"I told Joe that he was hitting three birds with one stone: He is gathering data from this recycling center, which he can use for this model to give back to the recycling center; the input data collected in this research can serve as great proxies for the household recycling models," Bhattacharyya said. "In the process, Joe learns a new software from scratch that would be a fantastic learning experience for him and prepare him better for the job market, given that Arena is the simulation software of choice among practitioners in manufacturing and service operations."

Reed, hopes that as the project continues, it will be possible to pinpoint areas the recycling center's processes can be improved.

"What has been revealed so far is that a lot of our processes need to be reviewed because we're moving a lot of materials multiple times during the process, but a lot of that is due to limited space," he said.

Carlson recommended reducing the number of times waste is transported by finding a very specific place to put items in the center. He added that staff interviews showed a need for more employee accountability, which could be improved by assigning employees to specific tasks each day.

"From what I understand, the way tasks are assigned is whoever needs to do something, picks it up and gets it done," Carlson said. "I know everybody there wears a lot of hats, so I recommend assigning tasks as needed. If you assign someone to shovel plastic and two hours later you come back and something is not done, you know who didn't do that and you can hold them accountable."

The project has been a conversation starter for Carlson, who is able to go into job interviews with tangible evidence of work he's completed as a student.

"I'm able to talk with employers in interviews about the process of doing this project, including the problems and challenges I faced, and how I overcame them to bring this part of the project to a successful end," Carlson said. "I really hope to work with the student who takes this over and continue the project until it is a complete 3-D model, so we can really see if there is a way to help the recycling center with its processes in a way that could help save money."

Writer: Betsy Simon, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or Betsy.Simon@indstate.edu

Contact: Dr. Kuntal Bhattacharyya, director of the Center for Supply Management Research and assistant professor of operations and supply chain management, Kuntal.Bhattacharyya@indstate.edu