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

Green to Red Tailgate Challenge

It’s that time of year again, football season is upon us. Our football team has been working hard to make us proud and you have the opportunity to do the same, by joining us for our 2nd annual Green to Red Tailgate Challenge.

At the Oct. 19 home game vs. the Arizona Sun Devils, join your fellow fans in a little friendly competition to bring some green into your red-out tailgating. The Green to Red Tailgate Challenge is a contest to make your tailgate as sustainable as possible. Wear red and be green during the U’s first Green to Red Tailgate Challenge. All tailgates are automatically entered. Winners will be chosen by student athlete sustainability leaders based on how sustainable your tailgate team can be in the areas of waste and recycling, transportation, energy, food purchases, and innovation. Here are some ideas:

  1. Ditch the disposables. Bring reusable cups, dishes, and cutlery. Stay hydrated with reusable jugs of water.
  2. Don’t go Solo! Those iconic red cups are a low-quality plastic. If you need plastic cups, look for clear cups that are plastic #1.
  3. Separate your recyclables. Keep two bins—one for trash and one for recycling. Make sure to avoid food and liquid in the recycling bin.
  4. Go local. You can get all your tailgating needs—including BBQ, brats, grass-fed beef, and of course, beer! (21+)—from Utah companies.
  5. More than cars. Points for people in the group who biked, carpooled, or used public transportation.
  6. Reuse your U decor. You wouldn’t throw out your favorite University of Utah t-shirt! Show your team spirit with U decorations you can use game after game.

The tailgate crew with the most points will receive an on-field experience at your choice of 2020 football game (except BYU) and dinner in the Tower for four people.

Adopting Sustainable Practices in the Workplace

The choices we make in our work environment impact the natural environment. Departments and offices represent a large portion of energy and material use, and waste generation on campus. By making smarter choices, we can integrate sustainability principles into day-to-day activities on campus. Our Green Office program provides tools, support, and guidance to colleges and departments to help make your campus life more sustainable.

Start your certification process today by completing the “Office” section of the checklist. It’s easy and can be done in less than 1 hour.
 
First steps:

  • Identify your “Green Office Educator.” If you are filling out the checklist, that would be you.
  • Post your checklist in a visible place in your breakroom or your office community space to remind people that your office is committed to environmental sustainability and actively supporting larger campus initiatives.
  • Next, send an email to your department members letting them know that the department or college is working towards certification. Encourage them to learn more about campus sustainability initiatives and support the effort by doing any of the following:
    • Volunteering to help your team get certified!
    • Signing up for the Sustainability Office newsletter
    • Following the Sustainability Office blog
    • Following Sustainable U of U on social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter)

Make sure Green Office practices are part of the new hire orientation process. Explain what the program entails and let them know how they can help support the effort. It can be as simple as sharing the above information during your office tour, describing your team’s ecofriendly purchasing practices, sharing resources related to sustainable transportation options and acquainting them with the recycling program.
 
More resources and information can be found here.