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Building the infrastructure of sustainability

When the Environmental Science and Sustainability Club conducted their waste audit at Washington State University Vancouver in the fall of 2013, they found issues they decided to tackle. With the lack of a composting system in place, roughly 35% of the trash produced was food waste, and a similar proportion was recyclable material. Club President Kate Perkins and the rest of the ESS club members decided to create a plan to build long-term goals for waste management, aiming to reduce the output of conventional trash on campus as well as channeling waste into more productive avenues than sitting in a landfill.

Perkins explained that the initiative would have a benefit for the campus that was twofold.  “When we performed our waste audit on campus,” she said, “what we found was that, as of last semester, we had approximately 30-35% of the trash as compostable material, and approximately 30-40% of the trash was recyclable.” She explained that not only was this a waste of natural resources, but also of WSU Vancouver’s financial resources. Waste management pays for trash by weight, whereas recyclables are billed by volume. Therefore, not only does putting food with trash waste the chance to recycle it as compost, the greater density of food products costs the campus extra. “The more food waste we can take out of our trash cans,” Perkins added, “the less we will be paying.” One of Perkins’ examples of a highly Earth-friendly university was the main WSU campus in Pullman, which not only has an extensive composting system, but also bundles their own cardboard and resells it to recyclers to help recoup operating costs.

Beyond adding a system for compost and giving students information on items that are commonly mistaken for trash, the ESS club is also advocating for changes that would provide a lasting improvement in the campus’ sustainability. Some ideas Perkins mentioned were switching to biodegradable plates and cups in the cafeteria, reducing the amount of plastic water bottles sold and having event vendors use compost-friendly supplies. “It’s about making a systemic change, so we can fully utilize the system,” Perkins said. The ESS club plans to continue working with faculty members to examine the viability of new initiatives and to help build the infrastructure needed to maximize the sustainability on campus.

The ESS club is also looking to use on-campus activity to raise awareness about these issues. They plan on tabling in the cafeteria, where they will not only provide information about compostable materials to students there, but also advertise for their upcoming Earth Day event. The April 22 event will include presentations and workshops about not just recycling, but also many other sustainability issues, ranging from local oil and coal terminals to bees. The event will be catered by a local Vancouver pizzeria and include prize giveaways, with all materials for the event coming from local, sustainable and Earth-friendly sources. “We want to lead by example,” Perkins said, saying that the event would be their way of showing that events can be sourced responsibly. She added that the event would be a proof of concept exercise for future events, and emphasized the role of consumer choice in making sustainability on campus a reality for years to come.

For details about the Earth Day event, or to learn more about the ESS club and its members, visit wsuv.orgsync.com and go to “browse organizations.”

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