Green Eagles aim for zero on-campus waste

AU students raise awareness of various strategies to reduce waste on campus, including student waste watchdogs in various departments.

Imagine an AU without trashcans.

AU’s Green Eagles are trying to get there, by reaching out to students, faculty and staff to achieve campus-wide zero-waste status this February.

The Green Office’s “Zero Waste Month” initiative is part of the University’s goal to reduce its environmental footprint and increase sustainability practices.

Green Eagles are students involved with the Green Office, part of the Office of Sustainability. The Green Eagles are assigned to run green initiatives in the various departments, buildings and residence halls on campus.

Sarah Rouhan, a senior in the School of Public Affairs and Green Eagle for the University Center and Student Activities, explained that zero-waste means diverting as much of the waste that leaves the University for landfills as possible.

“About 83 percent of the items that are sent to landfills could be either recycled or composted,” said Josephine Chu, a master’s student in the School of International Service and a Green Eagle.

Chu emphasized that zero-waste depends on all three branches of the common adage: “reduce, reuse and recycle.”

According to Chu, the emphasis should be on reducing what individuals’ purchase and thinking about how one can consume less.

“Instead of trying to figure out how to dispose of our waste after the fact, we should focus on how to prevent making the waste in the first place,” Chu said.

Simple changes, such as using reusable water bottles and bags, can save students and faculty money while also having positive environmental implications.

Chu also said students and faculty can make a noticeable difference by properly recycling paper, aluminum, glass and plastic.

Of the 250 million tons of trash produced in the United States in 2010, only 85 million tons were recycled or composted, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Chu plans to have teachers switch their classroom and office trash cans to recycling bins and place food composting receptacles in the SIS kitchens.

Similarly, Rouhan plans to make sure staff members in the University Center and Student Activities have recycling bins next to their trash cans to simplify the recycling process.

These small alterations can be the difference between a staff member embracing a change or falling back in to old habits, Rouhan said in an email.

It is easier to say that one will be more proactive in their efforts to be green, Rouhan said. But when it disrupts people’s normal routine, they are more inclined to stick to their habits.

“This is the first year of implementation of the Office of Sustainability, so we really are introducing the offices and staff members to the idea of not only becoming more sustainable, but the actual physical presence of someone who is pushing them and encouraging them to do all these things,” Rouhan said.

Ryan Ramirez, a master’s student in SPA and the Green Eagle for Bender Library, said the easiest way to tackle zero-waste is to:

• identify what type of waste is being generated,

• look at the AU community’s current disposal habits

• and look for new ways to take steps away from generating that waste.

Ramirez is organizing a silverware drive this month to collect plates, cups and utensils to replace the Bender Library’s disposable utensils and dishes currently used in its kitchen.

Ramirez complimented the Library’s staff for its green efforts so far this school year, saying they were the first staff office at AU to compost. They made one of the largest switches to 100 percent recycled paper of any office on campus. They also “de-lamped,” or removed, 1,000 unused bulbs.

“The greatest challenge will be getting people to change their way of thinking and think more about what they purchase and throw away,” Chu said. “We need to get people to understand that there is no such thing as throwing away; the trash has to go somewhere.”

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