What’s waste got to do with climate change?

This article, originally published in @theu, November 13, 2019, was written by Kate Whitbeck, communications, sustainability department.

Did you know that one of the easiest low cost and most effective ways to impact climate change is to change our consumption habits? An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded study indicates that more than 40% of our climate impact in the U.S. comes from our stuff and our food. There is an energy and emissions cost to manufacturing, transporting, using goods and then eventually disposing of them. Simply reusing, reducing, recycling and buying used or recycled goods conserves energy and reduces emissions.

More than 40% of our climate impact in the U.S. comes from our stuff and our food.

Environmental Protection Agency

Millie Heiner, sustainability ambassador, presents a zero waste kit to President Ruth Watkins.

 

In an effort to promote a culture of waste reduction on campus, the Sustainability Office has launched the #UBYO campaign to encourage the U community to bring their own reusable bottles, mugs, containers, utensils and more to reduce plastic waste. We handed out thousands of reusable utensil kits at new student orientation events and the farmers market and gave away 12 zero-waste kits through an opportunity drawing. We even presented U President Ruth Watkins with a zero waste kit. Each kit contains a reusable hot/cold bottle, reusable silicone bag (plastic bag alternative), handkerchief (reusable napkin), reusable grocery bag, utensils and reusable silicone food container. Many of the items are available at the Campus Store or can be assembled from items you already have at home or can pick up at your favorite thrift store.

In order to start a conversation around waste reduction on campus and in honor of America Recycles Day, which takes place in November, the Sustainability Office is organizing a Hinckley Institute Panel entitled The End of Recycling? Life After National Sword on Wednesday, Nov. 20, from 12-1 p.m. The panel will explore how policy changes in China have affected our local recycling practices and what we can expect for the future. Panel participants include Beau Peck, director of sales and marketing from the Pro Recycling Group, Jennifer Farrell from Salt Lake City Waste and Recycling Division and Joshua James, University of Utah recycling manager.

It is important to understand the link between climate change and waste reduction, and the energy and emissions savings we can gain from reducing and recycling. According to the EPA, recycling aluminum cans saves 95% of the energy needed to make new cans from raw materials. Recycling steel and tin cans saves 60-74%; paper about 60%, and plastic and glass about 33% compared to making those from raw materials. While these energy savings are significant, we also need to recognize that recycling has its own carbon footprint related to collection, transportation and processing. Reducing, reusing and sharing should always come before recycling.

An environmentally friendly kit made for U. Available now at the Campus Store.

Some people are intimidated by the concept of zero waste. While zero waste is generally defined as diverting 90% or above from the landfill, it can still feel like an unachievable goal. Fortunately, the reality is that many people making a concerted but imperfect effort has a much greater effect than one person reaching zero. Zero doesn’t have to be everyone’s goal. Making good choices when possible can be the goal.

The other good thing about changing consumption habits is that it’s within everyone’s reach and can save you money. Not everyone can afford an electric car or has the ability to make major changes to our power grid or transportation system. The movement isn’t about buying. Choosing to borrow, reuse and share keeps money in your wallet and keeps your carbon footprint low.

The University is taking a close look at its waste habits and focusing on some new strategies to divert more from the landfill.  See the text box below for some highlights and take action by joining the #UBYO Campaign or get your office certified through our Green Office Program.

Waste wins at the U

  • The U has identified some new priorities for managing its waste based on a recently completed study. These include an overhaul of signage, a food waste collection pilot program and the development of a more effective system to incentivize waste reduction and recycling.
  • Since the launch of the Green Office Certification program in 2017, ecofriendly purchasing of general office supplies has increased from 35% to 53% and ecofriendly paper purchasing has increased from 38% to 79%.
  • Each year, the Sustainability Office coordinates U Recycle Day, an electronic waste drive which diverts tons of waste from the landfill.
  • The annual housing moveout donation drive (aka WAGACA – What Goes Around Comes Around) diverts food, clothing, blankets, and more from the residence halls each May.
  • The University Carpenter Shop is committed to creative reuse. They reclaim materials from buildings that are being demolished or remodeled and repurpose them. The desks below are made of marble from OSH and wood from basketball courts and harvested from trees (sycamores) displaced by new construction.
    wooden table made from reclaimed wood with U logo on the top in a conference room

Greening your office

This article, originally published in @theu on November 7, 2019, was written by Kate Whitbeck, communications, sustainability office. 

Every office has that one person who pulls things out of the trash and puts them in the recycle bin. The same person goes around and turns off the lights that aren’t being used. Sometimes it is a couple of people and sometimes those people make up the majority of the office.

These people are part of a growing force that is transforming our campus. They recognize that the choices we make in our work environment impact the natural environment, our health and our future quality of life. They also recognize that these are issues that are important to our students. These values also happen to fit into the university’s broader mission to promote responsible stewardship of our resources, reduce the impact of the U on the environment, and ensure the long-term success and viability of the institution.

There are currently 45 offices, centers and departments that are either Green Office certified or in the process of getting the certification. Coordinated by the Sustainability Office, the Green Office program helps provide the tools, support and guidance to institutionalize these changes. Departments and offices on campus represent a large portion of energy and material use and waste production on campus. Working through the Green Office checklist is an easy way to reduce energy, waste and emissions through smart purchasing, transportation choices and simple changes to common office practices.

So, how do you go about getting Green Office Certification? We talked to a local expert who has shepherded her office through the process. Ally Marringa is the Academic Advising Coordinator for the College of Social & Behavioral Science.

Why did you initiate the Green Office program in your office?

I really didn’t know much about sustainability when I first started working at the U. I quickly noticed that it is super important to my students. We wanted to make sure that we were upholding our students’ values. If we are trying to be role models and teach them that you can make a difference no matter what you are doing then this is a small way we can start.

What are some of the unique things you have done in your office to make it greener?

We have incorporated green office practices into how we advise—using laminated sheets and dry erase markers rather than a single paper sheet for each student. We use online fillable tracking sheets so students can plan out courses a semester by semester. We try to make the process as paperless as possible.

How did you get started?

When we got the check-list, half of it was done already. So that was the easiest part. In terms of stuff, we needed to put more time into what we purchase. Like when we need swag for tabling we find recyclable material to use now. When we need to get T-shirts for students or materials, it’s just thinking about taking the extra time to look at whether the product is sustainable, where it comes from, and all of those different things. Some of it can be pricier. So, it’s being choosy about what we get to buy.

We brought in plates and mugs for people to use in our breakroom (they have a dishwasher). They were all pretty for it.  It was pretty easy for us. It is mostly just slowly getting other people to buy in and share ideas on how they can do things differently.

What was surprising to you?

We checked off half of the things on the checklist just because we are in a LEED-certified building. So it was making little tweaks. In our meetings we have presenters send out flyers electronically instead of providing printed handouts.  That way we can post on Canvas, listservs or other tools instead of using physical handouts. Sometimes you just need one copy to hang in a central location.

What is your next goal?

We want to hit Gold. One of the next goals is to increase our supply of reusables or work with Chartwells to use reusable china so that our larger events are zero waste. Holding green events would have a big impact on students. We need to make sure these practices are visible—that we are modeling these values.

What would you tell an office that is considering certification?

It is super easy. I think most offices are doing these things. It’s just seeing what other people are doing, what other universities are doing, and how the Sustainability Office can help makes it easy. It’s just talking to your team. “This is something we are considering doing. Do you agree? What are the non-negotiables and what can we do differently?”

Oh, and I love the webpage. I use it a ton. The info is good. Use the library guide. Be sure to sign up for the Sustainability Office’s newsletter and follow social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter).

For more information on the Green Certification program, email Karren Fultz at karren.fultz@utah.edu.