By: Steven Sweeney & Chelsea Malacara, Resource Recovery Supervisor & Sustainability Education and
When you think of sustainability, what is the first thing that comes to mind? For many it is waste, recycling, and/or composting. While that is only one component of sustainability, it is one of the most significant areas that the University targets to make the largest impact in our carbon footprint. USM recently won its fifth Food Waste Recovery award from the Environmental Protection Agency. The result of a significant increase in food waste recovered from 2017 (77.4 tons) to 2018 (92.5 tons). Much of our success is attributed to Sodexo’s cooperation with the program in food prep areas on both campuses. However, food waste recovery and recycling is still a challenge in common areas and residence halls.
The Office of Sustainability employs 15-20 students (Eco-Reps) each year to work on various sustainability initiatives on campus and waste, or material resources as we call it, is one of those areas. In the past our student employees have conducted waste monitoring in the Woodbury Campus Center, implemented a food waste recovery pilot in Upperclass Hall, and deployed a sneaker recycling program. Tackling this problem requires not only the leadership of 15-20 Eco-Reps but of each member of the USM community, which includes our commuter and residential student population.
So what can you do? First and foremost, across all three campuses there is clear signage on all the waste stations which depict and describe what can go in each bin. The few seconds it takes to look at those before throwing something out can make a meaningful impact. It costs more to dispose of trash than it does recycling or food waste. That means the more that is recycled and composted, the more money that can be allocated to other university resources.
Second, have fun getting educated about why reducing, reusing, and separating your waste is important! Not only does USM have student educators but professional staff who are experts in the subject of waste. If a student group, residential hall, office, or class wants to get to know their trash, the Office of Sustainability are excited to talk to anyone in the USM community using an interactive, hands-on approach.
Lastly, never underestimate the power of a small, seemingly insignificant action. That straw you decided not to take may seem like too small an action to make a difference but by choosing not to take it, you have the potential to divert thousands of straws from the landfill. The seemingly small choices we make each day can have a significant impact over the course of a day, a week, a year. This semester, we challenge you to make a small choice with the promise you will likely see a positive change in your life. Maybe it’s less clutter, maybe it’s the feeling that you’re doing good for the Earth, maybe it’s just a financial savings.
If you’re interested in this topic or having a representative from the Office of Sustainability come talk to your group about waste, please contact Steven Sweeney: [email protected] or Chelsea Malacara [email protected]